PORTLAND, Ore. — The U.S. Forest Service plans to alter its environmental standards to allow a proposed $800 million natural gas pipeline to run through 47 miles of Mount Hood National Forest.
The proposed Palomar pipeline would require opening a path measuring 120 feet wide. The path would stretch through forest areas that have been protected from clear-cutting and other disturbances under the department’s management plans.
The Forest Service would also have to revise other rules, such as limiting cutting around Wild and Scenic Clackamas River, spotted owl habitats and recreational areas.
The pipeline is a joint venture of Northwest Natural Gas Co. and TransCanada Corp. Construction is scheduled to start in November 2011.
If approved, it will feed into a natural gas network east of the Cascades and extend across 217 miles.
Supporters of the project say it would provide a much-needed alternative to a natural gas pipeline running through the Columbia River Gorge and into the Willamette Valley.
Natural gas is a resource that could ease potential petroleum shortages and provide an alternative to coal, which generates about 40 percent of the electricity used in Oregon, Palomar spokesman David Dodson said.
“We support renewable energy, but natural gas will have to be part of the mix,” Dodson said.
Opponents of the project argue portions of the forest would be lost, and if a pipeline should be built at all, it should be closer aligned with existing roads.
“If this was a timber sale, it would be illegal,” said Amy Harwood, program director for conservation group Bark, which advocates preserving forests surrounding Mount Hood. “Why should we allow an energy company special treatment?”
Once the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which has authority over the project, decides whether to allow the project to proceed, the Forest Service will begin deciding the specific changes it will make to its management plans.
FERC spokeswoman Tamara Young-Allen said the agency approves most pipeline proposals, and tends to focus on requirements companies must meet to mitigate environmental damage. The agency will likely evaluate the project within the next 12 months.
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