LNG, county settle on terms

BROWNSVILLE — Despite some vocal opposition to the measure, Cameron County commissioners voted to give Rio Grande LNG a 10-year tax abatement earlier this week.

If Rio Grande LNG receives the OK from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, the subsidiary of NextDecade will receive a 76 percent tax break when it breaks ground at the Port of Brownsville. That translates into a $373,100,000 tax break.

The vote was 4-1. County Judge Eddie Treviño was against the abatement.

In a NextDecade press release, Chief Financial Officer Ben Atkins said the vote signaled the start of the company’s formal partnership with Cameron County.

“These tax incentives are essential to the project’s competitiveness, and we are grateful to have received broad political support, evidencing our commitment to safe operations and sensitivity to the region’s environment and tourist sectors. Rio Grande LNG is ideally located with access to a capable workforce, superb port facilities and abundant, low-cost feed gas from the Eagle Ford and Permian basins,” Atkins said.

As part of the agreement, Rio Grande LNG will pay $2.7 million to the county each year in lieu of taxes. Also, the company will provide up to $10 million to fund community projects and “to maximize the hiring of local residents during construction and operations,” according to the press release.

The company could invest more than $15 billion in Cameron County as a result of the project. Rio Grande LNG is expected to create 6,000 jobs during construction, more than 250 permanent jobs and more than 3,000 indirect permanent jobs, according to NextDecade.

NextDecade hopes to receive FERC approval by mid-2018. A final investment decision would came later in the year, and the first LNG production would be in 2022.

Though he did not vote for the abatement, Treviño noted that one of the problems facing Cameron County was a major brain drain — skilled workers leaving the Rio Grande Valley for jobs in other areas.

“The reality is that the Port of Brownsville was created with the intent of being an industrial park. It should be no surprise to anyone that it will attract industries that will allow them to become more profitable,” Treviño said.

Treviño said his hope for this decision is that it really does result in a lot more jobs.

“They want to be a good corporate citizen. I want to hold them to their word, and I hope they continue down that road,” he said. “The industry needs to make sure they don’t impact the environment, and the environmental supporters need to understand we need more jobs.”

In a statement, Texas Sierra Club Organizer Rebekah Hinojosa said the county sold out its communities.

“We needed the county to look past the Rio Grande LNG sales pitch and hear their constituents, but they didn’t. The natural gas for the terminal will come from fracking, which damages Texas land, pollutes water and air, and causes illness in surrounding communities,” Hinojosa said.

If Rio Grande LNG is permitted, Hinojosa said, it will “irrevocably scar” the coastline with tanker ships, ground flares and miles of pipelines.

“… The reality is that progress and jobs do not have to come at the expense of community health. By approving the tax break, the commission is voting to trap Cameron County to the polluting fossil fuel industry when other areas of Texas are transitioning to clean energy,” Hinojosa said. “Our community will not stop organizing. The people of Cameron County will continue to push back during every phase of the regulatory process.”