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Pacific Northwest gas pipeline expansion approved by federal regulators

 Gas Transmission Northwest Xpress project map
TC Energy
Gas Transmission Northwest Xpress project map

The Gas Transmission Northwest, or GTN XPress pipeline project, will increase the ability to transport methane gas from Canada to West Coast states and Idaho.

During Thursday’s meeting, officials with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission approved the project expansion without making any comments.

Since first being proposed in 2019, the project from operator TC Energy, has been controversial. Today’s decision to install three new compressor stations along the pipeline route will increase the reliability and capacity to ship gas. The plan has drawn criticism from a host of environmental groups and tribes, as well as senators and governors in Washington and Oregon and all three West Coast attorney’s general. Increasing long term reliance on natural gas is at odds with states’ climate goals and laws, elected officials say.

“Put simply, there is no way that our states can meet their emissions goals if this project moves forward,” said a letter from Oregon Sen. Jeff Merkley’s office, prior to the FERC meeting, urging them to reject the project.

Washington State Gov. Jay Inslee decried FERC’s approval, given the momentum to fund cleaner energy sources under the Inflation Reduction Act.

“It makes no sense to shackle ourselves to a source of energy whose cost will go up in the coming decades instead of clean energy sources whose costs are coming down dramatically,” Inslee said in a statement.

The pipeline upgrades approved on Thursday would allow for the additional transport of approximately 150 million cubic feet per day of additional methane gas for use in Washington, Idaho, Oregon and California. The $75 million in upgrades would be paid for by ratepayers. Idaho’s congressional delegation have written letters supporting the expansion.

“The GTN XPress project will play a critical role in keeping energy affordable and reliable for consumers in California and the Pacific Northwest. We appreciate FERC’s bipartisan action today to approve the project and will work diligently to place it into service as soon as possible,” said Michael Tadeo, a spokesperson with TC Energy.

Methane is a greenhouse gas that is “more than 25 times as potent as carbon dioxide at trapping heat in the atmosphere,” according to the EPA. The increased gas capacity in GTN XPress is equal to adding 754,000 cars on the road each year, until 2052, according to a letter from Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson. In 2022, Ferguson filed a motion opposing the GTN Xpress expansion, an effort that was joined by Oregon and California.

Environmental groups in the Northwest said they plan to appeal Thursday’s decision.

“We think it’s pretty egregious that FERC ignored all of the expertise that’s in the record urging them that the project is not in the public convenience which is the standard that they have to make their decision based on,” said Audrey Leonard, a staff attorney with the environmental nonprofit Columbia Riverkeeper, which plans to file a petition to rehear the FERC decision.

Since the GTN Xpress is a pipeline expansion, rather than entirely new infrastructure, lawmakers and environmental groups have fewer tools to stop it, said Hannah Sohl, executive director of Rogue Climate, a Southern Oregon climate justice group that helped block the Jordan Cove LNG pipeline in 2021.

“We have less permitting hooks, and the state especially has less decision making power in whether or not this project moves forward, but we will be challenging it in the courts,” Sohl said.

Copyright 2023 Jefferson Public Radio.

Erik Neumann is a radio producer and writer. A native of the Pacific Northwest, his work has appeared on public radio stations and in magazines along the West Coast. He received his Bachelor's Degree in geography from the University of Washington and a Master's in Journalism from UC Berkeley. Besides working at KUER, he enjoys being outside in just about every way possible.