DOEplaces strict environmental controls on GSX

Published on Thu, Oct 7, 2004 by ack Kintner

Read More News

DOE places strict environmental controls on GSX

By Jack Kintner

The Washington state Department of Ecology (DOE) issued stringent conditions last week for the Georgia Strait Crossing (GSX) natural gas pipeline being proposed by Williams Pipeline and B.C. Hydro.
“We are not endorsing GSX,” said Jeannie Summerhays, DOE’s regional shorelines manager, adding that the action “ensures that the federal government will include state environmental standards and protections if this project does go forward.”

The conditions include burying the pipeline under 23 streams it would cross between the point it enters Whatcom County near Sumas and where it begins crossing the strait at Cherry Point. At that point the DOE requires it to be buried for a mile to go underneath the bluff, beach and sensitive herring spawning areas in the off-shore eelgrass beds. The next five miles must be in a trench in order to not block movement of crabs and other bottom dwellers, and when it emerges to lay on the bottom it must be encased in a reinforced concrete casing to protect it from being damaged by bottom trawling fishing boat gear.
The guidelines are required as a part of the Army Corps of Engineers permitting process for the project.

According to Khalid Galant of DOE’s Bellingham office, Williams Pipeline contested DOE’s standing in front of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to participate in regulating the project last summer, claiming it had missed several deadlines within which it must either respond to a permit application or waive its right to do so. FERC agreed, effectively precluding DOE from a meaningful regulatory role in the pipeline’s construction or operation.
The state attorney general’s office, led by assistant attorney general Joan Marchioro, is contesting the ruling in the 10th Federal District Court in Salt Lake City, home of Williams Pipeline, saying that by responding on September 29 the agency was within the year’s deadline they had to respond under the federal Water Quality Protection Act section 401. Oral arguments are expected early next year.
Wendy Steffensen, who is the North Sound Baykeeper at ReSources, a Bellingham-based environmental education agency, said that while “we’re satisfied that DOE met this deadline and are imposing appropriately stringent water quality standards, this still does not address the basic issue, and hope that the DOE will step up to the plate to challenge GSX as to whether this should be allowed at all.”

In a related but separate lawsuit before the 10th Circuit in Denver, an environmental organization called Fuel Safe Washington led by Fred Felleman is challenging FERC’s jurisdiction over the GSX pipeline. Both Whatcom County and another environmental group, GSX Concerned Citizens of B.C., have filed amicus briefs on Felleman’s behalf with the court, saying that since the pipeline is not involved in interstate commerce, FERC has no jurisdiction.

Finally, Whatcom County hearing examiner Michael Bobbink is expected to rule on Tuesday, October 12, on a variety of issues stemming from county shoreline development regulations that affect the pipeline proposal, including whether or not it can be built under current county law and, if so, what kind of permitting process applies.
Williams contended that the county also missed deadlines and therefore forfeited its standing to regulate the pipeline’s construction and operation under the two permit protocols that Williams has filed under, one a conditional use permit and the other a substantial shorelines development permit. Both require that the county respond within 120 days.

However, the county maintained that not only did they meet those deadlines, but that as a major project that’s worth more than $5 million and which requires an environmental impact statement, Williams must apply under a major development permit. According to Jeff Chalfant of Whatcom County Planning and Development Services, such permits have no built-in time limit for response.

But even if Bobbink’s ruling goes against Williams, the project may still be allowed with little or no county and state control under shoreline regulations since the county’s standing in the matter, according to Whatcom County deputy prosecuting attorney Dave Grant, stems from the DOE’s authority.

If the 10th Circuit rules in FERC’s favor and eliminates the state DOE’s regulatory role, the county also loses its authority over the pipeline and Bobbink’s ruling becomes moot with respect to the shorelines issues as set forth in the state’s Shorelines Management Act and county’s Shoreline Management Program.