(CN) - The 9th Circuit on Tuesday declined to review a Coast Guard letter that found the Columbia River suitable for the shipping of liquefied natural gas.
The ruling is related to a long-running dispute over a proposed terminal and pipeline that the company Oregon LNG wants to build on the Skipanon Peninsula in Warrenton, Ore., near the mouth of the Columbia River.
The Coast Guard issued a letter-of-recommendation to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) in 2009, saying that the river was suitable, in terms of safety and security, for liquid natural gas (LNG) shipping traffic.
Columbia Riverkeeper and other groups opposed to the terminal and pipeline challenged the letter in two unsuccessful administrative appeals in 2010 and 2012, and later took the issue to the federal appellate court.
A three-judge appellate panel found Tuesday that it lacked jurisdiction to review the letter because it was not "a final agency order or action to issue a permit."
The unanimous panel found that the Natural Gas Act authorizes judicial review only over actions that are final.
"Here, the Coast Guard has no enforcement authority over FERC's siting decision, and its letter of recommendation does not produce legal consequences," wrote Judge Sandra Ikuta for the panel.
Columbia Riverkeeper attorney Lauren Goldberg told Courthouse News that this issue is just one of many "hurdles" that Oregon LNG faces, and that the number of permits the company needs to break ground "runs several pages."
"They are years from building this terminal," Goldberg said. "And our read is that they will not be able to build this terminal."
She added that the company still needs local approval for the project from the state and Clatsop County.
In October 2013, the Clatsop County Board of Commissioners voted 5-0 against the project, saying that a pipeline running through the county would violate land-use rules.
"Without local approval, the state of Oregon cannot sign off on the pipeline and the terminal," Goldberg said.
Meantime, Oregon LNG announced last week that it had received authorization from the U.S. Department of Energy to export liquefied natural gas to countries that lack a Free Trade Agreement, which it called an "important step" toward the realization of the proposed project.
Columbia Riverkeeper Executive Director Brett VandenHeuvel called that decision "tone deaf," in a statement, saying that it ignored "the reality that, despite 10 years of pushing a dead-end project, Oregon LNG has failed to obtain approvals from local, state, and other federal officials."