Coastal Commission blasts BHP’s LNG

Citing extreme harm to the environment and marine life, the commissioners give a big thumbs down to the Cabrillo Port project.

By Jonathan Friedman / Assistant Editor

Refusing BHP Billiton’s request to delay the hearing, the California Coastal Commission last Thursday blasted the Australian energy giant’s liquefied natural gas terminal proposal and voted unanimously that the project did not comply with state and federal protection standards. The 12-member commission’s vote in Santa Barbara made it the second state panel in a four-day period to reject the $800 million Cabrillo Port project.

The proposal to anchor a nearly 1,000-foot terminal 14 miles off the Malibu coast was criticized for being a threat to air quality and marine life. Commissioner Sara Wan, a Malibu resident, said, among other things, the noise and the lighting from the terminal would negatively affect the life forms in the ocean.

“Illuminating this area of the ocean will lead to a change of the entire ecosystem of that area,” Wan said. “Birds will be attracted to that area and die. Some marine species will be attracted to lights and be subject to predation, and some will be repelled and be impacted because they cannot come to the surface when necessary. And some will have their reproductive cycles impacted.”

She said little was included in the proposal that would mitigate the harms presented by the project, and Wan called the proposal’s environmental impact report, “highly deficient in many areas.”

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The commission was not assigned to vote on the project as a whole, but to decide whether it met federal and state coastal protection laws. The decision can be appealed to U.S. Commerce Secretary Carlos M. Gutierrez.

Several commissioners commented on what they said would be a project that would cause excessive greenhouse emissions and other air pollutants, which they said would harm the future of the area for many years.

“We did not inherit this land from our ancestors, but we are borrowing it from our children,” said Commissioner Khatchik Achadjian, who said he was inspired to vote against the project because of the six hours of public testimony that led him to believe the project’s negatives outweighed the positives.

More than 500 people attended the public hearing, including Malibu residents Pierce and Keely Shaye Brosnan, who have been a major participants, along with the California Coastal Protection Network headed by Susan Jordan, in the fight against the LNG project. Approximately 50 people spoke against the project. The speakers included local politicians, environmental activists, scientists and Oxnard and Malibu residents.

Malibu City Councilmember Pamela Conley Ulich, who attended the meeting with Councilmember Andy Stern, said in anticipation of the commission voting to reject the project, “It’s not often that the city of Malibu and the Coastal Commission see eye to eye. But today, we love you.”

Erica Fernandez, a 16-year-old high school student from Oxnard, drew the most attention, with the crowd applauding despite a rule stated at the beginning of the meeting that noisy reactions were not allowed.

“If you allow this company to come into my community, our futures will be dependent on a company that has become wealthy at any cost,” Fernandez said. “Do they live here? No. Do they vote here. No. Do their children go to school with me? No. Will you allow us to become their experiment?”

None of the speakers commented in favor of the project. BHP Billiton’s only vocal representation came at the beginning of the meeting when Renee Klimczak, the president of the company’s division in charge of the project, told the commission there was no reason for the public hearing to take place. She said in light of the State Lands Commission’s 2-1 rejection of the project three days earlier, the company had withdrawn its application to the Coastal Commission that the project complied with state and federal coastal protection laws, and BHP Billiton would prefer to review the project further on its own before proceeding. But the Coastal Commission staff said since the company’s federal permit application remains on file, there was no legal reason why the commission shouldn’t go forward with the hearing.

BHP Billiton did not bring any of its technical consultants to the hearing to answer questions. An attorney and spokesperson for the company could be seen among the crowd during the session.

Several commissioners expressed disgust about BHP Billiton’s refusal to participate in the hearing.

“It’s very unfortunate that they decided not to participate in this conversation,” Commissioner Ben Hueso said. “I think it points to a certain tendency on behalf of BHP [Billiton] to provide less information rather than more.”

BHP Billiton officials would not comment on their minimal participation in the hearing, although the company did issue a press release stating it is reviewing comments and remarks from the session.

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The Malibu Times is the first newspaper in Malibu, serving the community since 1946.

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