Sen. Boxer Exploring Options To Reverse House/Senate Committee Verbiage That Says CA's Public Utilities Comm'n Has No Role In Safety & Siting Approval Of Proposed LB LNG Facility
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Update: Senator Feinstein Adds Her Statement, We Post It
(December 2, 2004, updated 8:00 a.m.) -- Following news -- first reported among LB outlets by LBReport.com -- that a House/Senate Conference Committee had inserted non-binding but potentially influential language in a legislative document declaring CA's Public Utilities Commission has no say in approving or regulating an 80+ million gallon Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) facility proposed in the Port of LB, U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer (D., CA) is exploring options for overturning the action...which House/Senate conferees said should also divest state (and presumably local) bodies of regulatory authority nationwide.
A spokesman for Senator Boxer told LBReport.com that she "has asked her staff to look into ways to overturn this and is exploring options." David Sandretti, Communications Director for Senator Boxer's office added that the Senator expects to be briefed on the issue before Congress returns. He reiterated that the Senator "is looking at options for the best way to proceed to overturn this."
When pressed by LBReport.com on what overturning the Conference Report language means (the House/Senate language doesn't carry the force of law but invites others to argue it shows Congress' intent), Mr. Sandretti reiterated that the Senator's staff is exploring various options but declined to discuss specifics.
[update] Senator Dianne Feinstein (D., CA) has provided LBReport.com with the following emailed comment:
Senator Feinstein is concerned about non-binding language added to the Omnibus Appropriations Bill, which supports FERC's assertion that it has the exclusive authority to site on-shore LNG terminals. Like a number of other provisions, it was included in the bill without hearings in Congress or an opportunity for an up-or-down vote. And it demonstrates once again the systemic problems with combining numerous regular appropriations bills into an end of the year "omnibus" package.
A continuing dispute over this issue between FERC and the California Public Utilities Commission is now before the before the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, and we hope it can be resolved quickly so California can continue on the road to energy stability.
Since the language in the Omnibus bill is non-binding, we don't believe it should impact the court's decision. [end update]
The CA Public Utilities Commission is currently suing FERC in federal court, seeking to overturn FERC's contention that the 1938 law strips the state agency of regulatory power over an LNG facility proposed by a Mitsubishi subsidiary to be sited within the Port of LB roughly two miles from downtown LB. Absent explicit clarifying language from Congress, a federal judge (or eventually an appellate panel) will decide what Congress meant in 1938 as applied to 2004 and beyond.
Meanwhile, Rhode Island's Attorney General has called the House/Senate conference committee verbiage "a threat, not only to the pending [CPUC] litigation in California, but to every state in this nation. In a letter to Congressman Patrick Kennedy (D., RI), RI Attorney General Patrick C. Lynch wrote in part:
The proposed language is unfortunately consistent with public comments made by FERC chairman Patrick Wood in different forums and evidences not only a disregard of state's rights, but particularly on this issue, powerful energy interests stopping at no end in attempting to take away the state's voice in protecting its quality of life and environmental future. Their objective is profit at any cost and expense -- at the expense of our environment, safety, and the very quality of life of our Ocean State.
...[I]t is vitally important that this language not become a part of our laws. As such, I urge you to make your voice heard so that my voice and the voice of other state officers and any concerned agencies across this nation will have an opportunity to voice their concern, force proper analysis and demand thorough review of such proposals.
Accusing the House/Senate committee of "squelching the ability of states and local communities to have adequate control over these controversial projects," the Washington, D.C. advocacy/consumer group Public Citizen called "alarming" the process in which the FERC language was inserted. On its web site, the group said:
Rather than hold public hearings where the public and other lawmakers have an opportunity to comment, this provision -- which was in neither the House nor Senate bill -- was slipped into a massive appropriations bill at the last minute...By executing this shady maneuver, Congress has created a culture of unaccountability that robs the public and -- in this case, whole states -- of the notion that our laws and America’s policies are deliberated in a fair and open manner.
Echoing a view expressed locally by LB LNG project critic Bry Myown, Public Citizen said CPUC's suit against FERC "is being closely watched by other states, where officials have expressed alarm about the inability of state and local governments to have adequate input into these projects. Without adequate local control over this process, these LNG facilities may be forced upon America's coastal communities."
Calling the action an "underhanded attempt to muzzle citizens," the group urged members to "demand that Congress approve a second, special amendment to strike this LNG language." The multi-agency spending bill is being held before being sent to President Bush until roughly December 6 or 7).
In addition to security concerns, Public Citizen charged:
Increasing U.S. reliance on liquefied natural gas also increases our dependence on the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC). We obtain most of our natural gas from domestic production, with a small percentage coming from LNG imports. A quarter of those imports are from OPEC nations (Algeria, Qatar and Nigeria). Boosting U.S. reliance on LNG...will result in the United States becoming more dependent on OPEC.
The LB LNG project applicant, Mitsubishi subsidiary "Sound Energy Solutions," says on its website:
As California confronts challenges in cleaning the air and controlling energy costs, we at Sound Energy Solutions are pleased to offer a real solution that will benefit Long Beach residents, as well as the entire Southern California area.
Liquefied Natural Gas, known as LNG, is becoming the fossil fuel of choice here in the U.S. and around the world. It is the liquid form of the same natural gas we use every day to heat our homes and cook our meals...LNG is safe, clean and can stabilize energy costs for our families.
The DC office of Congressman Dana Rohrabacher (R., HB-LB-PV) -- in whose district the Port of LB is located -- had not responded to our inquiry on the House/Senate conference committee verbiage as of this posting. LBReport.com will continue to update this page to add comments as received. Revisit this page; click reload or refresh on your browser to ensure the most recent text.
LB is the only CA community in which an onshore LNG application is currently being entertained. Plans for an onshore LNG facility in Eureka, CA were abandoned amid community opposition. A proposed LNG facility in Vallejo, CA (on the former Mare Island Naval Shipyard site) was likewise dropped following local resistance.
LB's non-elected (Mayor appointed, Council approved) Harbor Commissioners, which oversee the public owned state tidelands in question, will conduct the LB LNG project's environmental review and decide whether to proceed with the project. The Port and City Hall have separately entered into Memoranda of Understanding with the LNG project applicant on separate issues (2003) and the Port is currently working with FERC and the applicant to process the firm's application.
Two offshore LNG proposals are currently pending in the Ventura-Oxnard area.
The LB LNG project applicant, "Sound Energy Solutions," maintains a web site at www.soundenergysolutions.com.
LBReport.com maintains a link on our front page to a compilation of our LNG coverage: LBReport.com LNG coverage.
Contact us: mail@LBReport.com