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AG Ferguson Seeks to Halt Gas Transmission Northwest Methane Gas Pipeline Expansion

OLYMPIA — Attorney General Bob Ferguson filed a motion on Monday to intervene and oppose an expansion to the Gas Transmission Northwest (GTN) pipeline that runs through Washington state. Ferguson asserts the company’s requested expansion would hurt Washingtonians and increase greenhouse gasses that the state is working to reduce over the coming decades.

The pipeline expansion would transport approximately 150 million cubic feet per day of additional methane gas from Canada for sale in Washington, Idaho, Oregon, and California. The project would emit approximately 3.47 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent per year, for at least the next 30 years. This is equivalent to adding 754,000 cars on the road each year until 2052.

GTN, a subsidiary of Canada-based TC Energy, asked the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to allow it to expand its capacity for methane gas running through the pipeline that crosses the Pacific Northwest.

The Washington Attorney General’s Office is leading on the motion to protest and intervene against GTN’s plans. Oregon and California joined the motion.

“This project undermines Washington state’s efforts to fight climate change,” Ferguson said. “This pipeline is bad for the environment and bad for consumers.”

“The West Coast is experiencing very real impacts of climate change and leading the climate fight, so it is fitting that Oregon, Washington, and California band together on this joint motion asking FERC to take a hard look at this pipeline proposal,” said Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum.

“Today, I’m joining my colleagues in Washington and Oregon in calling on FERC to take a hard look at the proposed GTN pipeline expansion,” said California Attorney General Rob Bonta. “Expanding the capacity of this pipeline would have significant environmental and public health impacts and is out of step with state and federal climate goals – and FERC can’t honestly say otherwise. The reality is, when we expand gas infrastructure, it’s all too often minority, low-income, and Indigenous communities that pay the price. I urge FERC to address the deficiencies in its environmental review and comply with the law.”

GTN claims that it needs the expansion due to growing demand for methane gas in the Pacific Northwest. Ferguson asserts GTN is relying on faulty assumptions about demand for methane gas in Washington for the next three decades.

If this expansion is approved, emissions from this pipeline alone will comprise 48% of the region’s target total emissions from all sources in 2050. That will undermine the region’s efforts to reduce emissions and transition to renewable energy.

Ferguson’s motion lists three reasons FERC should not allow this expansion to move forward:

  • The company is hiding the true costs of its planned expansion and is seeking to have existing utility customers unfairly subsidize its expansion.
  • There is no public need for the increased methane gas supplies, since Washington, Oregon and California laws are reducing demand for methane gas. The project instead appears to serve Canadian gas producers’ desire for increased market share.
  • The expansion is not in the public’s interest because it will increase long-term costs for consumers, increase air pollution and potentially compound environmental justice risks in vulnerable communities near the project and worsen the effects of climate change.

Stealth expansion of the Gas Transmission Northwest’s pipeline

TC Energy, GTN’s corporate owner, previously lobbied for the Keystone XL pipeline, until President Joe Biden revoked its permit. In this case, it has adapted its tactics to quietly expand an existing pipeline.

Ferguson argues that the company has not been upfront with FERC about its intentions. In 2020, the company informed FERC it spent $251 million for “reliability” upgrades to its system. Because GTN framed the upgrades as pure reliability work, the company now seeks to charge existing utility customers for those costs. In fact, GTN intended for those upgrades to serve the current expansion project.

The company also presented its current application to FERC as a project it developed to serve growing energy demands of utility customers in the Pacific Northwest. The company previously told its shareholders, however, that the project would serve to “enhance market access” of Canadian gas producers. In other words, the project will help Canadian gas producers gain market share.

GTN plans to pay for the expansion project through its energy rates, and calculates it would take 50 years to recover its costs — through 2072. Despite the company’s assertion, and based on restrictive natural gas policies in the affected states, Ferguson and the other Attorneys General assert this capacity will not be needed and GTN will likely have to abandon all or some of the pipeline infrastructure in the future. However, utility customers would be left to still pay for this unused energy infrastructure.

The company filed its application to expand the pipeline in October 2021 and FERC released its draft environmental review of the plan in June, finding it would have “limited adverse impacts on the environment.”

Assistant Attorneys General Megan Sallomi and Aurora Janke and paralegal Nerissa Tigner are handling the case for the Attorney General’s Office.

Ferguson’s environmental justice initiative

Ferguson launched the Attorney General’s Office Environmental Justice Initiative in April 2020 and for the 50th anniversary of Earth Day.

Research shows that Black, Indigenous, people of color, and low-income communities face the worst of the impacts of environmental problems and climate change. For example, low-income housing is more likely to be located near sources of air and water pollution, like highways, landfills, or hazardous waste sites. A research team led by the University of Washington and the University of Minnesota found that air pollution disproportionately harms Black and Hispanic Americans — air pollution that’s generated mainly by white Americans. Environmental justice recognizes that disproportionately impacted communities must be meaningfully involved in creating environmental protections.

In the motion to FERC, Ferguson noted there are vulnerable communities in the area near GTN’s compressor station in Starbuck. Data indicate that these communities may be at higher risk for environmental effects from GTN’s proposed expansion.

FERC also did not fully consider these effects when it released the draft environmental review. For example, the FERC review did not consider whether GTN’s project could affect farmworkers in the Walla Walla County area or how air pollution from wildfires would compound the air quality issues for people living in the area.

How climate change is projected to affect Washington state
 
The state Legislature has estimated the state is projected to experience:

  • An increase of 67 percent in the number of days per year above 90 degrees Fahrenheit, relative to 1976-2005, leading to an increased risk of heat-related illness and death, warmer streams, and more frequent algal blooms;
  • A decrease of 38 percent in the state’s snowpack, relative to 1970-1999, leading to reduced water storage, irrigation shortages, and winter and summer recreation losses;
  • An increase of 16 percent in winter streamflow, relative to 1970-1999, leading to an increased risk of river flooding;
  • A decrease of 23 percent in summer streamflow, relative to 1970-1999, leading to reduced summer hydropower, conflicts over water resources and negative effects on salmon populations; and
  • An increase of 1.4 feet in sea level, relative to 1991-2010, leading to coastal flooding and inundation, damage to coastal infrastructure, and bluff erosion.

How Washington state plans to combat climate change

The below are just some of Washington’s efforts to combat climate change:

  • Washington state set incremental limits on statewide emissions, which by 2050 will be 95 percent below 1990 levels.
  • In the electric sector, all retail sales of electricity to Washington utility customers must be greenhouse gas neutral by 2030.
  • By 2045, retail electricity must be 100 percent renewable.
  • Other sectors also must cap emissions and reduce them over time, consistent with Washington’s emission limits.
  • For buildings, Washington code will restrict the use of methane or other fossil fuels for heating, ventilation, and air conditioning systems in new buildings, beginning July 1, 2023.
  • The Washington Department of Commerce has set energy performance standards to reduce energy use in large buildings.
  • Ferguson has been holding federal agencies accountable to their obligations to comply with federal environmental laws, including the National Environmental Policy Act.