Permit Process for Bellingham Coal Terminal Expanded to Include Emissions Assessment

By Erik Olson, July 31, 2013, Longview Daily News

By ErState regulators announced Wednesday they will study the impacts of greenhouse gases related to a proposed coal terminal near Bellingham. The unprecedented decision that could force a longer and more costly permit for the Millennium Bulk Terminals coal dock west of Longview, and critics say it could have disastrous consequences and discourage all kinds of job-creating development.

In a joint release, the Washington Department of Ecology, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Whatcom County officials announced the scope of their environmental study of SSA Marine’s proposed $600 million Gateway Pacific terminal.

As expected, corps and Whatcom County officials will study the on-site impacts, but Ecology extended the review to include emissions and other impacts of increased train traffic from the mines in Montana and Wyoming and ocean-going vessels, as well as greenhouse gases generated when the coal is burned in Asia.

The announcement is a major win for environmentalists, who have been urging regulators for a broader review for more than two years.

“Coal is the dirtiest fossil fuel by far, and we need to fully evaluate what coal export would cost Northwest communities,” Cesia Kearns, campaign director for the Power Past Coal coalition, said in a written statement.

In addition to the onsite review at Cherry Point, Ecology regulators will evaluate added rail congestion in Washington and other states, effects on human health, the impact of increased cargo freighters outside of Washington and an evaluation of greenhouse gas emissions from increased coal burning. The terminal is scheduled to be completed in 2018, but Gateway officials say the broader scope could push back the opening date by years.

Eric de Place, policy director for Seattle-based conservation group the Sightline Institute, said the broad scope of the review also gives opponents more opportunities to sue and delay terminal projects.

“It’s not a fun time to be in the Northwest coal export business,” de Place said in a written statement.

Ecology’s announcement came as a bit of a surprise to industry supporters statewide, especially after top corps of engineers officials told a congressional committee that they didn’t have the authority to conduct such a review. Govs. Jay Inslee of Washington, John Kitzhaber of Oregon and U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell had all lobbied the corps in favor of a broader analysis.

Business groups said Ecology’s decision, if it is extended to other industries and projects, could stall development of terminals handling all sorts of cargo, killing much-needed import and export-related jobs statewide.

“We import parts to make airplanes. We export heavy machinery. We ship crops to the world. Are we supposed to assess the global impact of climate change on each of these? Our competitors sure don’t. This could be a disaster for Washington’s trade,” said Eric Johnson, executive director of the Washington Public Ports Association.

Lauri Hennessey, spokeswoman for the industry trade group Alliance for Northwest Jobs and Exports, said the ruling will make building coal docks more difficult but hasn’t killed them.

“We’re concerned about every project out there that deals with coal because of the precedent that was set today. This was a whole new way of looking at exports,” Hennessey said Wednesday.

Millennium officials noted that their project is separate from Gateway and will undergo its own process to determine scope (Ecology has yet to announce the scope of its Millennium environmental review). Also, a small amount of coal is already being handled at the site for Weyerhaeuser Co., they said.

“The state Environmental Policy Act studies the potential impacts from what is currently happening at the site and to what is proposed. The current operations at our brownfield industrial site already include handling coal, in fact, there has been coal at the Millennium site since 1941. While the Gateway scope is precedent-setting, we agree with the Department of Ecology that these are different projects with separate environmental review processes,” Millennium CEO Ken Miller said in a written statement.

Millennium is preparing for its first round of public hearings in September for the scope of its proposed $643 million terminal. Millennium plans to export 44 million tons of coal annually from the Reynolds Metals Co. site and generate 18 train trips daily. The terminal would support 130 permanent jobs, more than 2,500 jobs during construction and millions of dollars in tax revenue for local governments, according to Millennium.

If constructed, the Gateway Pacific terminal would be the largest in North America, exporting 48 million tons of coal annually to Asia. The terminal could generate 18 train trips daily 18 vessel trips per week, according to the Corps.

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