Criticism dominates LNG hearings

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Posted by on April 20, 2006 at 07:19:27:

By Charles Levin

Critics of a floating liquefied natural gas terminal off the Ventura County coast outnumbered supporters Wednesday as state and federal officials concluded three days of public hearings in Oxnard.

At issue is BHP Billiton's Cabrillo Port terminal. Critics say the Australian mining firm's proposal would hurt air and water quality and marine wildlife, lower property values and threaten security by offering terrorists a ripe target.

Supporters, including business and labor leaders, and taxpayer advocates, counter the terminal would be safe, environmentally sound and a sorely needed remedy for state energy shortages.

The California State Lands Commission and Coast Guard conducted the hearings, taking public testimony on a draft environmental impact report released last month. Earlier this week, officials extended the public comment period on the report an extra two weeks to May 12.

The 971-foot long Cabrillo Port would sit 13.8 miles off the coast, accepting LNG from tankers natural gas chilled to a liquid state and then converting it back to a gaseous form.

A pair of underground pipelines would carry the gas to the Reliant Energy generating plant near Ormond Beach. Another pipe would then take it to a Southern California Gas Co. facility on Center Road in Somis.

More than 600 people jammed the Oxnard facility Wednesday night after another hearing that afternoon. Similar hearings were held in Santa Clarita on Monday and Malibu on Tuesday.

As part of the proposal, BHP Billiton would pay for an expanded pipeline in Santa Clarita to handle extra gas capacity. The Monday hearing drew 16 speakers, all but two supporting the proposal but offering "very little" comment on the EIR, said Dwight Sanders, chief of the State Lands Commission's environmental and planning division.

At a Malibu meeting Tuesday night, more than 300 people showed up and critics dominated the event, shouting down proponents and often interrupting them with boos, hisses and jeers. Some 60 people spoke, with critics outnumbering supporters by more than two to one.

At one point, Surlene Grant, the hearing's facilitator, warned the audience she would ask Los Angeles County sheriff's deputies to remove anyone who didn't cooperate.

In contrast, the Oxnard hearings where opponents who spoke outnumbered supporters by more than two to one were relatively peaceful. Opponents occasionally booed supporters following their comments. Critics wore green buttons and red stickers bearing slogans of opposition.

Many opponents used the evening to call for more conservation and alternative energy like wind, solar and geothermal energy.

"This country ... has to break its dependence on foreign fossil fuel," Oxnard Councilman Tim Flynn said.

Oxnard Mayor Tom Holden said his city had done more than its share of providing regional benefits for Ventura County like electrical generating plants and three now-closed landfills.

"At some point, we say enough is enough," Holden said to a round of cheers and applause.

Many called the environmental report flawed, while others accused BHP of currying favor by wining and dining local businesses with pizza parties and raffles.

One speaker blasted the federal Environmental Protection Agency for applying the same air quality standards used for emission sources on the Channel Islands instead those on shore. This absolved BHP of the legal obligation to offset its project's emissions

"This is politics, not science," said Jack Nicholl, a political consultant from Ventura County's south coast neighborhood near Malibu.

BHP President Renee Klimczak, however, noted the company just signed agreements with two tugboat operators to convert their engines to cleaner-burning technology.

This would reduce toxic emissions by 219 tons a year, "more than meets the requirements we have with EPA for the air permitting on this facility," Klimczak said. "This is good news for the residents of Southern California and further testimony of BHP Billiton's commitment to be a good neighbor."

BHP has operated facilities in western Australia where it converts gas to LNG according to strict environmental and safety standards, said David Doepel, regional director of the Western Australian Trade and Investment Office-USA.

The project would not cost taxpayers a penny, but would add $25 million to the economy and create up to 100 permanent jobs, Don Facciano, president and CEO of the Ventura County Taxpayers Association, said in the afternoon session.

Countering calls for renewable energy and claims that Cabrillo Port was an untested experiment, James Doyle of Port Hueneme said alternative energy was even more experimental in nature.

"I'm personally not a NIMBY," Doyle said, using the acronym for not-in-my-backyard. "If you want to put it in my backyard, I don't care."

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