Terminal stupidity

Would a liquefied natural gas terminal on California’s coast be a cost-effective source of comparatively clean energy for years to come? Or would it be a dangerous liability that pollutes coastal areas and threatens the lives of thousands of people? You’d think state lawmakers would want to know the answers to such questions before approving an LNG terminal, but a common-sense bill to provide them has languished for two years in the Legislature and is poised to fail yet again.

Senate Bill 412, from Sen. Joe Simitian (D-Palo Alto), orders the California Energy Commission to assess whether the state really needs an LNG terminal, given other sources of supply such as a terminal being built in Baja California that will pipe natural gas north of the border starting next year. It also orders the commission to compare the different LNG proposals (there are currently three) on its website so the public can tell which would be the safest and cleanest.

It’s hard to imagine why anyone not in the pay of the energy companies proposing to build LNG terminals would oppose this legislation, yet after passing through the Senate and two Assembly committees, it is now being held in the Assembly Appropriations Committee. Unless it is released before the end of next week at the order of Speaker Fabian Nuñez (D-Los Angeles), it will be history.

There are two possible explanations for the holdup. Last year, the bill was defeated at the behest of construction unions, which had signed a deal with Sound Energy Solutions (a partnership of ConocoPhillips and Mitsubishi Corp.) to build its proposed LNG terminal at the Port of Long Beach. Even though that project has been soundly rejected, Sound Energy is still fighting in court to revive it, and organized labor continues to oppose Simitian’s bill.

Explanation No. 2 is that the bill has been caught up in an annual spate of childish bickering in Sacramento. As the session ends, the two houses of the Legislature often play a game of tit-for-tat in which Senate bills are held in Assembly committees in retaliation for Assembly bills held by the Senate.

California has never approved an LNG terminal; the Long Beach project was torpedoed in January and an offshore terminal 14 miles from Oxnard was rejected by state regulators in April. They died because decision-makers didn’t have enough information, and that won’t change until a needs assessment is conducted.

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