In Depth / Perspective
LB Delegation Heads To DC For Final Advocacy On Fed'l Energy Bill (LNG) and Fed'l Transportation Bill ("Mega Projects")
The Transportation bill
(July 17, 2005) -- With two major pieces of federal legislation with LB impacts in their crucial final stages, LBReport.com has learned that a delegation including representatives from LB City Hall and the Port of LB is heading to Capitol Hill for an intense one-day lobbying mission on Monday (July 18).
LBReport.com has learned that the LB delegation includes Councilman Frank Colonna (chair of the City Council's Federal Legislation and Environmental Affairs Committee), City Attorney Robert Shannon, Tom Modica (Manager of Gov't Affairs) and Carl Kemp (Port of LB Community Affairs/Gov't Relations Dir.) The team is scheduled to leave LB Sunday, spend a sweltering Monday in DC, and return to LB on Monday night.
The reasons for journeying to sweltering summertime DC include: (1) A federal Energy bill which includes provisions undermining state and local powers over the siting and safety of Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) facilities; and (2) a federal Transportation bill whose House version includes so-called "mega projects" of "national and regional significance" that the PoLB and LB City Hall want to fund an upgraded Gerald Desmond bridge and an expanded I-710 freeway...both of which would effectively increase the Port's goods movement capacity.
The trip comes with two House-Senate conference committees locked in high stakes negotiations to resolve differences between House-passed and Senate-passed versions of the Energy bill and Transportation bill.
In his July 16 weekly radio address, President George W. Bush named the Energy Bill and Transportation bills as among his top legislative priorities. "First, for the sake of our economic security and our national security, the Congress must complete its work on a good energy bill that will reduce our dependence on foreign sources of energy," the President said, and added that Congress should pass a "fiscally responsible highway bill that modernizes roads and bridges, improves safety and opens up new job opportunities."
The LB delegation's tentative itinerary includes meetings with the House Energy Committee's Counsel, staff in the office of Senator Dianne Feinstein and House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee Counsel. Also possible: meetings with the Senate Energy Committee Counsel and staff in the office of Congressman Ed Markey (D., MA). Cong. Markey is among the most outspoken House members opposed to parts of the Energy bill that undermine state and local powers over the siting and safety of Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) facilities. Cong. Markey has also frequently criticized an LNG facility in Everett, MA (a Boston suburb)...which has operated since the 1970s while entailing additional homeland security procedures with local costs since 9/11.
The House version of a whopping federal Transportation bill ("Transportation Equity Act") -- costing taxpayers nearly $300 billion -- would provide funding for so-called "mega projects" designated of regional or national significance. The verbiage, originally introduced as a standalone bill in fall 2002 by Cong. Juanita Millender-McDonald (D., LB-Carson), was supported by LB officialdom including Mayor Beverly O'Neill -- but stunned the Congresswoman by drawing public "boos" and disapproval as pollution-inviting pork by members of the public at a January 2004 Town Meeting meeting in LB.
The projects of national and regional significance ended up in the House version of the Transportation bill...but specific projects have (as of this writing) still not yet been publicly identified. They are expected to emerge (if at all) in the final bill that comes from the House-Senate Transportation bill's conference committee...which includes Cong Millender-McDonald.
The PoLB and LB City Hall have lobbied heavily for inclusion of a major upgrade to the Gerald Desmond bridge and enlargement of the 710 freeway...both of which would effectively expand the Port's goods movement capacity.
Differences in the House and Senate versions of the Transportation bill also center on money. The House version adheres to lower White House-desired funding levels while the Senate-passed version exceeds the administration favored level...and the White House has threatened a veto.
The federal Transportation bill has been the focus of costly Port and City Hall lobbying for over two years. During much of the period, City Hall (with voted Council approval) has paid thousands of dollars more each month to a City Hall-retained DC lobbying firm for services in connection with the Transportation bill. Simultaneously, the Port of LB pays the same firm (under a separate contract) to advocate the Port of LB's legislative interests in Washington.
The Energy bill
In contrast to the Transportation bill, the federal Energy bill -- which threatens to undermine current Council powers over an 80+ million gallon LNG facility proposed in the Port of LB, roughly two miles from downtown LB -- produced a considerably lower level of City Hall advocacy until fairly recently.
The Energy bill's LNG verbiage -- now opposed by LB City Hall -- stems from actions that the Port of LB has pursued for over two years. In early 2003 -- without Council concurrence or prior studies on local safety or fiscal impacts -- the PoLB entered into a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with a firm seeking to build and operate an 80+ million LNG facility in the Port, roughly two miles from downtown LB.
The MOU doesn't commit to final Port approval of the LNG facility but did facilitate the firm's pursuit of the project. Among other things, the PoLB facilitated the LNG application to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) but didn't require the applicant to seek approval from the CA Public Utilities Commission. CPUC says its approval is required under CA law...but FERC says CA law doesn't apply. CPUC sued FERC to uphold CA law, prompting FERC to ask Congress to insert language in the Energy bill that will conclusively trump state and local bodies on LNG siting and safety. This is the language now opposed by LB City Hall.
As the federal legislation began taking shape in early 2005, LB officials first focused on sparing the Port from FERC desired eminent domain over LNG facilities; LB's Board of Harbor Commissioners and City Council both passed formal voted resolutions opposing eminent domain...and eminent domain wasn't included in the bill. In contrast, there were no formal Council resolutions -- or Harbor Commission resolutions -- opposing parts of the Energy bill that now threaten the Council's local control on LNG.
On April 2, 2005, City Attorney Shannon urged the Council to oppose portions of the federal Energy which threaten to preempt local control on LNG. Councilman Colonna agendized an item that produced a Council vote opposing the Energy bill's LNG provisions, but it came on April 19, two days before House passage of the bill. (Efforts by east coast Congressmembers to pass amendments preserving state control failed.)
Subsequent attempts by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D., CA) to create a veto for state Governors over FERC decisions also failed.
LB Mayor Beverly O'Neill co-authored a resolution by the U.S. Conference of Mayors (in which she's been VP for the past year, President since mid-June) supporting Transportation bill projects of "national and regional significance"...but failed to take move to enact a formal resolution at the group's annual meeting in June opposing federal preemptive aspects of the federal Energy bill (which affects coastal communities across the nation, not just LB). The chair of the group's Energy Committee also told LBReport.com that Mayor O'Neill had not spoken to him about the LNG issue.
A letter dated April 20 (one day before the House voted to approve the Energy bill) addressed to "Dear Representative" was jointly signed by U.S. Conference of Mayors' Executive Director, and the Executive Directors of the National League of Cities and National Association of Counties. It doesn't appear on a search of the Conference of Mayors' website.
Beyond the Energy bill's directly preemptive aspects, it also imposes timelines with serious consequences...including deadlines that can effectively deem an LNG project approved unless a local body completes its procedures (including appeals) by a drop-dead deadline.
The House and Senate versions of the Energy bill both leave the Port of LB with its inherent power as landlord to decide whether to allow the LNG facility on Port property...but give the Council no guarantee of its future powers on LNG...including its current ability to hear appeals on the sufficiency of Port-produced Environmental Review documents. Attorneys for the LNG applicant dispute Mr. Shannon's view of the Energy bill's preemptive effects locally...and the applicant has publicly pledged to undergo the procedure that includes Council review of the PoLB EIR.
On April 22, LB's first responders -- LBPD and LBFD brass apparently speaking for city management -- voiced concern regarding the LNG project's potential impacts at a meeting of the Council's Federal Legislation and Environmental Affairs Committee, chaired by Councilman Colonna (includes Kell and Reyes Uranga).
Despite their testimony, on June 7, 2005, the Council voted 5-4 (motion by Reyes Uranga) to maintain (not terminate) a 2003 City Hall LNG MOU (a companion to the Port's LNG MOU) (concerned a future connecting pipeline and potential beneficial energy costs for City Hall's natural gas utility). (Yes: O'Donnell, Kell, Richardson, Reyes Uranga Lerch; No: Lowenthal, Baker, Colonna, Gabelich).
On July 11, 2005, at a Coast Guard meeting held to take public testimony on the suitability of LB's waterways for LNG operations, LB's first responders again stated their concerns. "With regard to available resources, our concern would be do we -- the public safety aspect of it -- have the available resources necessary to mitigate a problem dealing with an LNG tanker or an LNG facility?...Will we, the Fire Department, be able to defer to outside third party assessment of our resource capability in terms of those equipments, personnel and facility needs to mitigate the hazards?" Deputy LB Fire Chief Scott Giles asked rhetorically.
He added, "If the onus or responsibility falls on the Long Beach Fire Department to respond and to mitigate all potential spills and releases, who will bear the cost of sustaining purchase of new equipment and the maintenance of such equipment [to] perform those functions during the life of the term?"
Pursuing the point, Bry Myown of Long Beach Citizens for Utility Reform said the Port of LB should be required to guarantee payment of public safety costs if it approves the facility. "Our city can't afford [school] traffic [crossing] guards...[O]btain a guarantee from the Port of Long Beach that it will manage the safety consequences," Ms. Myown testified.
The LNG applicant's CEO Tom Giles [no relation to LBFD's Scott Giles] said at the meeting, "What we propose is to provide a stable and low-cost supply of vehicle-grade LNG to the Port, rail and local fleet operators..."
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