Updated: Jun 24, 2020
On May 24, a full-page ad appeared in The Oregonian newspaper titled “An Open Letter to Kate Brown.” The ad urged Governor Brown to support the Jordan Cove Energy Project, stressing its importance to Oregon’s post-COVID-19 economic recovery.
“As we all work together to rebuild Oregon, America and the world, we should avail ourselves of every tool at our disposal to spur economic revival,” the letter entreated.
The organization behind the ad is called Western States and Tribal Nations (WSTN), a 501-C(4) that exists to push natural gas production from the Piceance-Uinta Basin. I doubt that this consortium of interests is all that invested in the economic recovery of Oregon. What they are very much interested in is finding markets for natural gas extracted through fracking in Wyoming, Utah, Western Colorado, and New Mexico.
WSTN is closely allied with the Consumer Energy Alliance (CEA), an industry front group which has been involved in a number of campaigns. Their forte is drumming up support for their initiatives and making it look like a grassroots groundswell.
Karina Brown, who continues her excellent reporting on the Jordan Cove saga for Courthouse News, described in a recent article the incestuous relationship among Pembina, WSTN, the Consumer Energy Alliance, and a lobbying firm called HBW Resources.
Andrew Browning is CEO of WSTN, but he is also Chief Operations Officer for CEA and a partner in HBW Resources, which lobbies on behalf of Canada's Tar Sands.
Another name that pops up a lot is David Holt, current President of CEA, CFO for WSTN, and founder of HBW Resources.
Pembina, the Canadian company that owns Jordan Cove, is a member of CEA, but not WSTN.
Partnering with Pembina
Last year, CEA published a report titled A Report on Natural Gas Markets for the Western States and Tribal Nations which identifies Jordan Cove as the “most promising export option” on the Pacific Coast.
“Realization of East Asian markets for western gas producers will play a strategic part of WSTN’s mission,” the report states. “WSTN will support such projects as Jordan Cove in their regulatory dockets and public proceedings.”
They certainly have.
In a recent virtual membership recruiting meeting with commissioners in Sweetwater County, Wyoming, Andrew Browning describes the relationship with Pembina:
“We have jumped in with full partnership with Pembina…on their permitting process,” Browning said. He goes on to describe how last summer, when WSTN was forming, they took “a number of delegations,” including county commissioners and labor groups, to various public hearings in Oregon, and commissioned “high-value letters” from tribal members, the Colorado Farm Bureau and other stakeholders. In an August 2019 article, a reporter for High Country News detailed how CEA helped Colorado legislators craft pro-Jordan Cove op-eds.
“That is the big prize that the Rockies states are in a position to capture, if we can get a toehold on the North American West Coast,” Browning told the Sweetwater County Commissioners, right after his pitch for $5,000-a-pop memberships.
Oregon landowners push back
In response to the Oregonian ad, Oregon landowners began writing letters to publications in the counties that have signed on to the WSTN, such as this one that appeared on UBMedia on June 18. In their letter, Sylvia and Larry Mangan call out the commissioners and speak directly to the rural residents of Uintah County, Utah:
“We wonder if there may be some hypocrisy in your support of this proposal, Commissioners Horrocks, Stringer and Haslem. You wouldn’t want your private land in
Utah taken for private profit, but then why is it okay if it happens in Oregon?
We appeal to your readers in Uintah county that may disagree with your commissioners and are troubled that they support this injustice. We ask you to stand with us Oregon landowners and help us fight the Jordan Cove project.”
Douglas County landowner Stacey McLaughlin wrote to every commissioner who was listed as a “supporter” in the Oregonian ad. The letter was an admonishment—and a warning that CEA may not be entirely upfront about their motives:
“Consumer Energy Alliance is a lobbyist and simply Pembina's next step in attempting to secure support for this muddled project. FIFTEEN years later they still don't have a buyer . . . still do not have a buyer. And, they certainly do not need your gas and will make you every promise to garner support so they can get Canada's gas out of Canada.”
Indeed, all this focus on Rockies gas could make one forget that there is nothing in the FERC Order that guarantees or requires Jordan Cove to source gas domestically. And as landowners and others have pointed out, cheap Canadian gas will have a competitive edge over American gas if Jordan Cove is ever built.
It should be noted that Browning, along with David Holt, are long-time promoters of the Alberta Tar Sands through the vehicle of HBW Resources.
One thing is for certain: the more domestic support for Jordan Cove, the easier it's gonna be for FERC to justify its Order, no matter how much American gas flows (or doesn't flow) through the Pacific Connector pipeline.
CEA works behind the scenes
This is not the first time CEA has sponsored an organization or campaign to push forward a specific agenda.
A 2010 article that appeared in ThinkProgress detailed CEA's involvement in a five-year plan to build "grassroots" support for offshore drilling. And DeSmog has covered a number of CEA’s efforts, including a campaign called “Source Our Fuels” that CEA organized with HBW Resources. This partnership spawned a front group called Energy4US that was used “to gather and bundle public comments to the Department of Transportation that supported a rollback of fuel efficiency standards.”
Even more disturbing is the collaboration between CEA and the Canadian government, uncovered by reporter Geoff Dembicki, to defeat measures and legislation in the U.S. aimed at lowering carbon emissions. Dembicki used the Freedom of Information Act to obtain communications between CEA and the Alberta government which “lay bare a sophisticated and stealthy public relations offensive, one designed to manipulate the U.S. political system; to deluge the media with messages favorable to the tar-sands industry; to sway key legislators at state and federal levels; and most importantly, to defeat any attempt to make the gasoline and diesel pumped everyday into U.S. vehicles less damaging to the climate.”
Be warned: CEA plans to use the climate change debate to its advantage for Jordan Cove. Browning informed his Sweetwater County audience that CEA is “putting together a study” that looks at the impact of North American LNG on carbon emissions in Asia, which CEA "will utilize in the public debate on climate change.”
CEA may also find ways to attack Oregon's agencies, which have consistently defended their role in protecting the state. CEA is consistently critical of efforts by states and federal agencies that seek to thwart or at least slow down controversial projects such as the Atlantic Coast Pipeline. Just a few days ago, on June 15, David Holt praised the Supreme Court for tossing out a ruling by the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals which had effectively blocked the pipeline from crossing under the Appalachian Trail.
Here’s what David Holt had to say:
“Now more than ever, it’s time for anti-energy groups to stop playing political games that fail to improve our environment, and serve only to make energy more expensive for families, businesses and consumers, using contorted legal theories that stretch credulity and good sense with the sole mission of stopping the development of energy infrastructure.”
Apparently Oregon landowners, tribes, and state agencies are among these “game-playing anti-energy groups.” Never mind that CEA and WSTN have seized upon the COVID-19 pandemic as a convenient vehicle through which to push their agenda.
We will be watching for more evidence of WSTN’s media blitz.
In the meantime, if you have a moment, please consider contacting Governor Kate Brown and letting her know that she should be listening to her constituents and state agencies, not outside fossil fuel interests.
The list of supporters and members that appeared in the Oregonian ad also includes two Oregon County Commissioners: Derrick DeGroot (Klamath County) and Don Russell (Morrow County).