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Columbia Riverkeeper loses LNG challenge

A federal court has thrown out a lawsuit against the U.S. Coast Guard that challenged its approval of proposed liquefied natural gas shipping on the Columbia River.

In an opinion filed Tuesday, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals dismissed the case because it felt the Coast Guard's approval was not "final agency action," and therefore it lacked the jurisdiction for a review.

The conservation group Columbia Riverkeeper sued the Coast Guard for issuing a letter of recommendation in 2009 that suggested LNG could be transported safely on the river with some adjustments. The group said that the agency did not comply with the National Environmental Policy Act or the Endangered Species Act by not waiting for environmental assessments.

The Coast Guard is one of the federal agencies involved in reviewing the Oregon LNG import and export project in Warrenton. It is required to give input in the permitting process and to weigh in on the transportation of LNG on the nearby waterways. The agency recommended safety and security measures for LNG tanker traffic in its approval letter and said that further efforts would have to be addressed in an Emergency Response Plan and Transit Management Plan.

When Columbia Riverkeeper appealed the decision, the Coast Guard responded by saying its letter did not require or impose any requirements to comply with its recommendation.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission is the lead agency in the siting of the proposed LNG facility, which would cool natural gas to -260 degrees F and export it overseas. FERC is still reviewing the project. Oregon LNG was recently granted permission to export domestic natural gas to countries without free trade agreements with the United States.

The company and the affiliated Oregon Pipeline Co. has appealed the Clatsop County denial of its pipeline permits to the Oregon Court of Appeals. Clatsop County commissioners denied a consolidated land-use application for 41 miles of pipeline in October. Oregon LNG appealed to the Land Use Board of Appeals, which remanded it back to the county because of bias. That decision will now be reviewed by the state's appellate court.