Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson is leading the three West Coast states in a challenge to a $335 million pipeline improvement project to increase the flow of Canadian natural gas to the Northwest and California.
The Monday filing with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission from Ferguson and the Oregon and California justice departments opposes the GTN Xpress project and represents an escalation of state-level efforts to block development of new fossil fuel infrastructure.
GTN, a subsidiary of TC Energy, brings in natural gas from Alberta, Canada, via a 1,377-mile pipeline that cuts through Idaho, Eastern Washington and Oregon to link up with California pipeline networks.
In 2019, TC Energy announced a project to boost capacity and reliability largely by improving three compressor stations.
The project would increase greenhouse gas emissions by the equivalent of 3.47 million metric tons of carbon dioxide annually for the next three decades, according to the Monday filing.
Ferguson said that was the equivalent of adding 754,000 internal combustion engine cars to the road, and “undermines Washington state’s efforts to fight climate change.”
In a statement Monday, TC Energy defended the project as important to address future growth in demand.
“We are proud of the support GTNXP [Gas Transmission Northwest XPRESS] Project has received from labor, key communities, stakeholders and neighbors, and we are committed to continuing our dialogue as we create long-term opportunities, including jobs and economic benefits in the region,” the statement said.
The project is under review by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which earlier this year released a draft environmental study. It found the project operations and downstream emissions could potentially increase Idaho’s greenhouse gas emissions by 16%, Washington’s by 3.8% and Oregon’s by 7.7% based on 2019 levels. The draft study did not try to characterize the significance of its climate change impacts.
Brionna Aho, a spokesperson for Ferguson, said the attorney general took action under the office’s “independent authority” and not on behalf of any state agencies.
California, Oregon and Washington all are trying to clamp down on greenhouse gas emissions by shifting from fossil fuels to more renewable fuels, which would increasingly supplant natural gas consumption.
But natural gas remains a big part of the Northwest energy mix, helping to generate electric power and heat homes and fuel industries. When it leaks unburnt into the atmosphere, the methane in natural gas is a much more potent, although shorter-lived, greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide.
When natural gas combusts, it emits less carbon dioxide than coal and crude oil, producing an equivalent of the amount of energy, and the natural gas industry has argued that should play a key role in helping transition to cleaner fuels.
Critics of the project cheered the states’ opposition filing, and said that state measures seeking to clamp down of fossil fuel use should lead to declining demand for natural gas.
“We just really don’t have any wiggle room for any more fossil fuel infrastructure if we are going to meet our climate goals,” said Emily Moore, a senior researcher at the Seattle-based Sightline Institute fossil fuel transition program.
Lauren Goldberg, executive director of Columbia Riverkeeper, which has a long history of fighting proposed fossil fuel projects in the Northwest, said the Monday action is a “game-changer.”
“GTN’s proposal flies in the face of state actions to combat climate change,” Goldberg said.
Dan Kirschner, executive director of the Portland-based Northwest Gas Association, which represents Northwest natural gas companies and pipelines, said that the pipeline improvements are needed to accommodate growth in the region.
Kirschner dismissed the filing by Ferguson and Oregon and California state officials as “more like a PR exercise than anything substantive.”