Grassroots Organizing and the Defeat of Bradwood LNG

Nick Engelfried

This isn’t just a victory for our land, water, and climate, but for the power of progressive grassroots organizing in Oregon

Since Tuesday, environmental circles around the state have been reeling with the news: the fight over Texas-based NorthernStar Natural Gas’ Bradwood LNG terminal on the Columbia River seems finally to have been won. When NorthernStar announced it was suspending the Bradwood project, it seemingly brought to a close one of the biggest environmental fights in recent Oregon history. Shortly after suspending Bradwood, NorthernStar filed for bankruptcy and began liquidating its assets. Barring an effort by some other company to resurrect Bradwood later on, for now the project appears dead. This isn’t just a victory for our land, water, and climate, but for the power of progressive grassroots organizing in Oregon.

Since Tuesday, environmental circles around the state have been reeling with the news: the fight over Texas-based NorthernStar Natural Gas’ Bradwood LNG terminal on the Columbia River seems finally to have been won. When NorthernStar announced it was suspending the Bradwood project, it seemingly brought to a close one of the biggest environmental fights in recent Oregon history. Shortly after suspending Bradwood, NorthernStar filed for bankruptcy and began liquidating its assets. Barring an effort by some other company to resurrect Bradwood later on, for now the project appears dead. This isn’t just a victory for our land, water, and climate, but for the power of progressive grassroots organizing in Oregon.

The movement that rose against Bradwood (and which continues to fight other LNG proposals in Oregon) exemplifies grassroots organizing at its finest. No single organization set the agenda for this fight. Environmental groups like Columbia Riverkeeper and the Oregon Sierra Club played an essential role in the process, and deserve much credit for the victory over Bradwood. Yet rural landowners in Washington and Yamhill Counties first began criticizing LNG not because an environmental group told them to, but because LNG infrastructure like the Palomar Pipeline—the western half of which will likely perish with Bradwood—threatened their lands, livelihoods, and small businesses.

Having identified a common threat in LNG projects, which would cut through forests, streams, and farmland while delivering a high-carbon fuel to the California gas market, land-rights activists and environmental groups began a collaborative journey that bridged the urban-rural divide and brought middle-aged rural landowners to lobby their legislators alongside student environmental activists. As the coalition to stop LNG expanded, the breadth and diversity of the movement continued to grow. Whether it was threats made by LNG companies that eminent domain would be used to seize private land, or the effects importing a high-carbon fuel would have on Oregon’s climate and greenhouse emissions-reduction goals, it seemed nearly everyone could find something to dislike about LNG.

The demise of Bradwood LNG provides definitive evidence of what we in this movement have known all along: with persistence and time, a grassroots effort can be more powerful than a corporation with the backing of millions of dollars. To be sure, market and economic factors also contributed to Bradwood’s suspension. The opening of new reserves of North American natural gas make an LNG import terminal seem a less lucrative investment than it did a few years ago. But to say Bradwood was defeated by economics alone is to miss the point. Without a succession of legal and political challenges from the affected communities, construction on the terminal would likely have begun years ago.

Some will try to paint NorthernStar and Bradwood as the victims. In a bizarre editorial that portrays grassroots opposition to this major industrial project as a type of politicized bureaucratic nightmare, the Oregonian argued Wednesday that Bradwood was defeated by over-regulation and unnecessary legal challenges. But the ability of organized groups of ordinary people to challenge a multi-million dollar entity through legislative and judicial processes is what allows true democracy to thrive. It’s that kind of political atmosphere that makes grassroots organizing possible and gives progressive movements a chance to succeed.

The supporters of large corporate projects like Bradwood will continue to look at organized citizen opposition as a type of bureaucratic hurdle. But so what? Democracy has always been inconvenient to the very rich and very powerful. For the progressive movement, the story of Bradwood LNG’s demise should be held up as a tale of triumphant grassroots power at its best.

Comments

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    Everyone give a great big welcome to our newest contributor, Nick Engelfried!

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    Welcome, Nick. And thank you for this.

    I think what was lost on the Oregonian and other conservative editorialists was the fact that this also created low wage, short term jobs. The cost-benefit analysis on environmental impact vs job creation just didn't add up well for Oregonians.

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