LNG plant vote looms

first_imgSACRAMENTO – Despite continuing opposition from environmentalists, a $1 billion liquefied natural gas facility proposed for off the Malibu coast could win key state approvals as early as next week. To be built by Australian energy giant BHP Billiton and anchored about 14 miles offshore, the floating facility would become California’s first such plant. The 214-foot-high terminal would accept liquefied natural gas from tankers, convert it into natural gas and pipe it to a facility in Oxnard. “The facility we’re proposing is absolutely the most environmental facility out there,” said Renee Klimczak, president of BHP’s liquefied natural gas division. “That’s why we’re proposing it for California. It’s been specifically designed to meet all of the standards.” Despite BHP’s assurances, the proposal has drawn adamant objections from activists who fear that the facility and the tankers that supply it would pollute the water and endanger marine life. “I don’t like this project because I think they’ve chosen a design that is not suitable for installation along the California coast,” said Susan Jordan, director of the California Coastal Protection Network. “If the government is committed to importing LNG into California, there are other alternatives, technologies, designs and locations that could be more appropriate, that could carry fewer public safety risks and a smaller environmental footprint.” Votes next week The California Coastal Commission and the California State Lands Commission are scheduled to hold final hearings and vote on the project next week. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger would have until mid-May to make a final decision. While Schwarzenegger has previously supported more LNG supplies in the state, spokesman Bill Maile said he has not yet taken a position on the Malibu project. BHP and energy industry officials note natural gas is a cleaner-burning source of energy than traditional fossil fuels such as coal. And Klimczak said the facility will produce roughly 800 million cubic feet of natural gas every day – enough to supply at least 10 percent of California’s overall demand. The company has received letters from 18 utilities and natural-gas consumers – including Los Angeles’ Department of Water and Power – interested in purchasing the gas, she said. BHP has already agreed to a number of mitigation measures in response to concerns by environmentalists and state officials, Klimczak said. All LNG tankers would use natural-gas fuel when in California coastal waters, and support vessels such as tugboats will be fitted with catalytic reduction systems. State Controller John Chiang, one of three members of the State Lands Commission, said he has not yet reached a decision on the LNG project but has questions and concerns. “I’m concerned about emissions mitigation,” Chiang said. “The appearance, at least from the land, doesn’t appear all that great. I’m trying to get a better sense of water travel and water usage and public safety. There are strong disagreements.” The Lands Commission staff issued a report raising some concerns about the project but ultimately recommending its approval. A report from the Coastal Commission’s staff, however, recommended rejection on environmental grounds. BHP Billiton has used its political leverage to push the project, spending nearly $3 million on lobbying. The company and its lobbyists also are closely connected to a number of former members of the Schwarzenegger administration. The governor’s former communications director, Rob Stutzman, now works for a political consulting firm that has worked for the LNG industry. And the governor’s former legislative secretary, Richard Costigan, now works for the firm that lobbies for BHP Billiton. Maile said politics will play no role in the governor’s decision. “As with any major decision, the governor will look at all sides of the issue and make a decision based on the merits and what’s in the best interest of California,” Maile said. But environmental opponents have been joined by officials from Oxnard and Malibu, state lawmakers representing the coast and celebrities including actor Pierce Brosnan and anthropologist Jane Goodall. Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky also opposes the project. “I don’t believe it’s appropriate in an environmentally sensitive area,” Yaroslavsky said. “Of all the places I would site an LNG terminal, it wouldn’t be next to a national park. It’s like putting a coal-fired power plant in Yosemite Valley.” The plant would be near Channel Islands National Park. On Capitol Hill, federal lawmakers are starting to question the EPA, which ruled three years ago that the LNG facility must meet the strictest smog regulations. A year later, it reversed that decision. Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Los Angeles, chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, has sent letters to the agency demanding proof of the further analysis EPA officials said they relied upon for the reversal. Waxman aides said they have not received any new studies or analyses from the EPA. Aides said they did, however, find contacts between a Bush administration political appointee and BHP Billiton. Reversal investigated In a letter to EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson in March, Waxman said he is concerned about possible “intervention” by Jeffrey Holmstead, former assistant administrator of the EPA for air and radiation. Aides said documents show Holmstead met with BHP Billiton in March 2005 and contacted the EPA unit responsible for California shortly after that. An EPA conference call was scheduled for April 27. The agency’s reversal came June 29. Holmstead, who now is a partner with the firm Bracewell & Giuliani, did not return a call seeking comment. Waxman aides said they have asked the EPA to submit to interviews and expect to conduct those in the coming weeks. In the meantime, Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., and Rep. Lois Capps, D-Santa Barbara, are objecting to the Cabrillo Port project and requesting a long list of documents. “With Democratic control (in Congress), there’s more of an opportunity for us to put pressure on the administration to explain their decisions,” said Capps spokeswoman Emily Kryder. Staff Writer Kerry Cavanaugh contributed to this report. harrison.sheppard@dailynews.com (916) 446-6723160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. 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