Friday, May 7, 2010

Fairness Means Never Having to Say "To Be Fair."

“To be fair”? “To be fair”! So starts the sixth paragraph of yet another factually erroneous Oregonian editorial that ignores the reporting in your own paper ("Endless process defeats LNG" 5/5/2010). “To be fair” can be translated as “unless we mention the following, what you have read so far would not convey the whole picture.” But is it fair to bury six paragraphs in one of the reasons Northern Star itself gave for folding up; namely the US is “awash in natural gas”? A phrase you yourselves reported almost two years ago ("With wholesale price cuts, why will natural gas bills rise?", Oregonian 8/14/2008).

Is it fair to misrepresent Bradwood as having received local approval when in fact the local approval had been successfully contested in a referendum by a 2-1 majority ("Clatsop County voters reject proposed pipeline for LNG   project", Oregonian 9/17/2008), and remanded twice by LUBA ("Board overturns LNG terminal approval", Oregonian. 1/27/2009 and "Oregon land use board rejects Bradwood Landing LNG terminal approval for second time", Oregonian (AP) 4/12/2010 ) and that Clatsop County refused to join in Northern star’s appeal of LUBA’s second ruling; something you seem to have failed to report on at all.

Is it local approval or something else when all commissioners who voted "yes" (over the "no" recommendation of professional staff, outside consultant and the vast majority of public testimony) eventually faced recall elections with only 2 surviving ("Voters in Clatsop County give Commissioner Richard Lee the boot", Oregonian 3/26,2008 and "LNG fight may claim Clatsop commissioner", Oregonian 10/28/2009)

Is it fair to headline your article, “Endless Process Defeats LNG” when on January 4, 2010 you ran, “The molasses-slow regulatory process governing proposed liquefied natural gas projects in Oregon moves to the high burner this week after federal energy regulators told their fisheries counterparts to get on with their analysis of whether the Bradwood Landing LNG terminal and pipeline would jeopardize endangered species.”

Doesn’t this and other facts undermine your whole “the deck was stacked against the Bradwood proposal” argument? Northern Star availed itself of FERC’s new super-siting authority. Northern Star already knew approving one of these facilities had been nie impossible in California (that’s why they and others moved on to Oregon). Northern Star, far from being the underdog, marshaled considerable resources in its favor After all they had $100 million to spend, top-flight legal help and the labor unions on their side. They knew or should have known the political, economic and legal environment they faced. In my view they misjudged the situation, "misunderestimataed" the opposition and had bad luck on timing the gas market. There should be no shame in this regard on failing. It was a high risk/high reward venture from the start. The deck was not stacked against them, but the odds were.

What has Northern Star left in its considerable wake? In addition to millions in unpaid bills, judging by some loyalist postings, some very bitter Oregonians who, in spite of the long odds, were counting on the Bradwood chicken before the golden egg had hatched. You aid and abet this conflation of projection and reality by unabashedly parroting without qualification that Bradwood "would have created 450 construction jobs and 65 permanent jobs." Not even an "according to company estimates" or "claims." While Northern Stars numbers are accepted at face value, opponents arguments are referred to as, " highly dubious, about the safety, economics and environmental impact." 

Is that a fair characterization when in the very next paragraph you admit that Bradwood might have been defeated “on the merits"? Indeed, the opposition was more properly characterized as based on, need ("Department of Energy report says Oregon doesn't need LNG", Oregonian 5/10/2008), legality under Oregon and Clatsop County's own land use laws (previously cited), compatibility with NEPA ("Federal fish biologists question Columbia River LNG project" Oregonian 11/21/2009 and "DEQ suspends permitting on Bradwood Landing LNG project" Oregonian 2/26/2009), and on FERC ignoring its own policies, rules and charter ("State asks court to toss Bradwood site's approval" 1/26/2009). How can you in good conscience characterize these as "dubious?" Would not a fair assessment characterize them as arguments that ultimately prevailed (land use, need), were likely to prevail (NEPA with NMFS and ODEQ) or were in process of being adjudicated (FERC).

Finally, is fairness and its modern, if ungainly dance partner, balance, the proper standard for an editorial? I prefer accurate and honest myself. Accuracy from the facts and honesty the ability not to cherry-pick the facts. The ability to render an opinion even if it conflicts with preconceived notions, ideas and prior pronouncements without regard to appearances other than integrity. Fair and balanced admits to predictability whereas accurate and honest may roam freely across the undulating waves of truth. With regard to LNG, the Oregon Editorial Board has become a predictable purveyor of fair and balanced. Whereas an honest and accurate reading of your own reporting leads ineluctably to a wholly different conclusion.

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