A controversial fracked gas pipeline and export facility project is dead, but the fight over it could play an important role in a congressional primary battle heating up along Oregon’s southern coast. As yet another new United Nations climate report warns of the existential danger of new fossil fuel development, the primary will test whether unpopular fossil fuel projects loom large enough in the minds of voters to make climate change a major electoral issue.

In 2007, the Canadian energy giant Pembina proposed a 234-mile long pipeline stretching across much of southern Oregon to move fracked gas from Canada and the Rocky Mountains to the West Coast. In 2014, the corporation expanded its proposal to include the Jordan Cove liquefaction export facility in Coos Bay, Oregon, which would have been the first such export facility on the West Coast and given Pembina access to gas-hungry Asian markets.

The pipeline’s proposed path crossed five major rivers, state and federal lands, and would have required the developer to either buy rights-of-way from almost 700 landowners or seize their property via eminent domain.

The proposal, which became known as the Jordan Cove project, faced massive opposition from landowners along the pipeline’s route, as well as from Oregon politicians, local environmental groups, and tribes. When the project was canceled in December, the lawyer representing landowners opposing the pipeline told E&E News, “I can say the landowners are utterly delighted that this chapter of their 15-year nightmare is over and hopefully that will truly be the end of Pembina’s hopes to build this project.”

But while the project may be dead, its ghost still looms large in the state, especially in the coastal congressional district of retiring progressive Rep. Peter DeFazio. That’s because one of the pipeline’s high-profile supporters, Oregon Labor Commissioner Val Hoyle, is now running for DeFazio’s seat in Congress and racking up support from progressives like DeFazio and establishment Democrats alike — while at the same time taking money from one of the project’s main lobbyists.

Oregon’s congressional primaries will be held on May 17.

Hoyle’s Corporate Backers

DeFazio, who has represented Oregon's 4th congressional district since 1987, announced his retirement from Congress last December. A founder of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, DeFazio said the latest redistricting, which left the district leaning more heavily Democratic, ensured that a fellow Democrat would succeed him.

Within hours of his announcement, Labor Commissioner Hoyle announced her candidacy. Scarcely a month after throwing her hat into the ring, Hoyle had not only received endorsements from DeFazio and both Democratic U.S. senators, but also contributions from several key members of the party’s corporate wing.

“I’ve known Val Hoyle for 25 years and also know her commitment to aggressively dealing with climate change and fighting for a greener future,” DeFazio wrote in an op-ed last month for the Oregon Register-Guard. “While some of the other candidates share this commitment, Val is the only person who can advance environmental policy and bring together voters of all stripes who believe their livelihoods will be threatened in the transition to a greener future.”

But while Hoyle had a track record of passing pro-worker legislation as a state legislator, she also supported the Jordan Cove project, as DeSmog recently reported. As an unsuccessful candidate for Oregon secretary of state in 2015, Hoyle pledged her support for the pipeline, while acknowledging she would “take heat” for it.

“I will say that in this room. I will say it in rooms of people who oppose liquefied natural gas,” she said at a debate. “I’m not afraid to have an opinion. I hope when I have your back that you'll also have mine.”

Hoyle has now said she will not support new fossil fuel infrastructure projects if elected to Congress.

Still, one of the pipeline project’s top lobbyists donated to Hoyle’s campaign in December, according to campaign finance records reviewed by The Lever.

According to the records, lobbyist Raymond Bucheger gave the maximum individual contribution of $2,900 to Hoyle’s campaign that month. According to federal lobbying records, between 2013 and 2018 Bucheger lobbied for Jordan Cove LNG, a subsidiary of Pembina Pipeline Corp., and then lobbied directly for the company behind the pipeline between 2018 and 2020.

Bucheger also reportedly advised a local chamber of commerce on how to set up an astroturf organization to boost local support for the pipeline project.

During her secretary of state campaign, Hoyle accepted thousands in contributions from Jordan Cove.

The labor commissioner’s past support for the pipeline project “shows that she is not on the side of Oregonians, our drinking water, or our climate,” said Kyle Purdy, an organizer for the Sunrise Movement. “It is shocking that while our state was experiencing firsthand the impacts of the climate crisis… Val Hoyle was taking thousands of dollars from a foreign pipeline company and loudly bragging about her support for new fossil fuel infrastructure.”

Strictly speaking, Hoyle didn’t take money from a foreign pipeline company. Accepting campaign cash from foreign people or corporations is generally illegal. But the U.S.-based Jordan Cove is wholly owned by Pembina Pipeline Corp., which is based in Calgary.

The state agency that supervises election laws declined to investigate Jordan Cove’s donations, with its director saying his office didn’t want to become a “gotcha agency.”

During her congressional campaign, Hoyle has also received support from corporate donors.

Bradley Tusk, Michael Bloomberg’s former campaign manager and now CEO of Tusk Ventures, a New York venture capital fund, also gave the maximum to Hoyle. His political consultancy, Tusk Strategies, has retained the New York City charter school lobby, the New York City police union, real estate interests, Uber, and Andrew Yang’s recent mayoral campaign, as clients, according to reporting by The Intercept.

Additionally, the Save Democracy PAC, which Tusk runs, donated $5,000 to Hoyle. Tusk did not return a request for comment.

When Hoyle ran for Oregon secretary of state in 2016, she received a $250,000 contribution from Michael Bloomberg, almost half of her total fundraising in the election. A Bloomberg spokesperson said at the time he was backing Hoyle because of her support for a gun control bill in the state legislature.

Hoyle was also endorsed this year by the New Democrat Coalition Action Fund, the electoral arm of the caucus supporting pro-business Democrats. The group backs candidates in swing districts or in districts held by Republicans that it believes could be flipped Democratic.

Hoyle’s campaign didn’t respond to requests for comment for this story.

“The District Can Lead On Climate”

Hoyle’s past support for the Jordan Cove project infuriated many Oregon environmentalists and discouraged them from supporting her Congressional campaign.

Instead, many major local and national environmental groups have endorsed Doyle Canning, a lawyer and activist who was a member of the Jordan Cove opposition and helped organize landowners against the project.

Canning ran a primary campaign against DeFazio in 2020, challenging his initial support for the Jordan Cove project — support that the Oregon congressman withdrew in 2019. Canning is now running a campaign almost entirely focused on the climate crisis; her website features the tagline “Oregon's Climate Champion For Congress In 2022.” She is once again focusing attention on the pipeline project, given Hoyle’s support for it.

“The district can lead on climate in a way that is profound,” she told The Lever. “And that is because we have this very strong climate movement that just defeated a $15 billion pipeline company. The Jordan Cove fight changed the political climate in Oregon forever.”

Canning has been endorsed by many major local and national climate groups — including the Sunrise Movement, Food and Water Watch Action, Friends of the Earth Action — and prominent activists, including 350.org founder Bill McKibben.

Recent polling commissioned by three such groups, Climate Hawks Vote, the Center for Biological Diversity Action Fund, and Friends of the Earth Action, shows that the Jordan Cove pipeline is on still the minds of voters in Oregon’s fourth district, even as Hoyle leads Canning 24 percent to 8 percent among likely primary voters.

A poll of likely Democratic primary voters in the congressional district, conducted by Public Policy Polling on behalf of Climate Hawks Vote, found that while none of the leading primary candidates have significant support — 54 percent of respondents said they didn’t know who they were voting for — candidates’ support for Jordan Cove could play a role in their vote.

Fifty percent of respondents said they would be less likely to vote “for a candidate who supported the Jordan Cove proposed export terminal for liquefied natural gas,” while 9 percent said it would make them more likely to vote for that candidate.

Our news organization relies on readers pitching in to support our journalism. If you like this story, please support our work.