The state’s decision to include greenhouse gas emissions and train traffic concerns in the environmental review of a proposed Whatcom County coal terminal has caused the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to conduct a separate review of Longview’s proposed Millennium coal export dock, federal officials said Friday.
State, Cowlitz County and federal officials will develop two separate environmental impact statements (EIS), one by the corps and one by the state Department of Ecology and Cowlitz County.
Industry groups said the shift indicated that the state’s review of the Whatcom County project is far too broad and will impede efforts to create jobs. Environmental groups said the decision is shortsighted and will confuse the already complicated process.
The change also has resulted in marathon public hearings scheduled for Longview on Sept. 17 and Clark County on Oct. 9. Each will now last seven hours. However, the change does not alter the timeline of the review or the dates of any of the previously scheduled public hearings on the project, officials said.
The corps, Cowlitz County and state Department of Ecology had initially said they’d work together to develop the draft environmental impact statement for the Millennium project. Such documents determine which areas will be studied for potential impacts and what steps might be needed to avoid or reduce harmful effects.
The environmental statements are critical steps in getting the state and federal permits, and officials from all three groups said it was best to work together on the complicated and controversial project.
Friday, though, officials announced that the corps now will do its own study, though all three agencies will still work together gathering facts and comments about the Millennium project.
The change resulted from ecology’s decision on the Gateway Pacific Terminal coal project in Bellingham. There, the state expanded the scope of the review to include added rail congestion and locomotive pollution, effects on human health and the effect of greenhouse gas emissions by burning the coal in Asia. It was an unprecedented move decried by business leaders as too broad and possibly project-killing. Environmentalists cheered the decision, saying the greater impact of coal needs to be studied.
The corps declined to follow suit.
Given those differences, “it made sense to do two separate documents but continue the collaborative process,” corps spokeswoman Patricia Graesser in Seattle said Friday
“Basically, our scope is quite narrow in comparison with what the (state) review will be looking at, and that difference did lead us to look at whether a joint document is the best path forward,” she said.
The corps also must review projects using federal regulations while the state and county use state laws in their review.
The scope for the Millennium study hasn’t been announced yet, but for consistency’s sake it made sense to take the same approach for both coal projects, Graesser said.
Cowlitz County Commissioner Mike Karnofski said the groups will still work together and he’s not worried about different approaches in the two EIS documents. Coal projects need both state and federal permits, so even if one agency required higher standards than another, the company would have to comply with both before moving forward.
“I think it worked out the best it can,” he said. “The corps can meet their needs and the county and state will still meet our needs, and we’ll all be in the same room together hearing the same comments. ... We started out as three co-leads and we’ll continue as three co-leads.”
Industry leaders cheered the news Friday.
“What more evidence do we need that Ecology was way out on a limb with its interpretation of environmental policies?” said Herb Krohn, legislative director for the state’s United Transportation Union leadership board. “The corps doesn’t want to be attached to that, to no one’s surprise. We have only been asking for a fair review, and a fair sense of urgency so we can crate these jobs and help our economy.”
A coalition representing health, environmental, clean-energy and community groups, though, called the news distressing.
“(The corps decision) continues to show a total absence of leadership and will just further delay and confuse the process,” said Cesia Kearns of the Power Past Coal coalition.
Kearns said the corps needs to consider the effect of the coal terminals on all the communities affected, not just those were the terminals are located. She noted that “six other federal agencies, seven tribes, numerous elected officials and municipalities and hundreds of thousands of citizens” have called for an expanded review of the projects.
Millennium Bulk Terminals wants to build a $643 million terminal west of Longview to ship coal to Asia. The company says it will provide 130 full-time, family wage jobs, thousands of construction jobs and millions in tax revenues for local governments. The project has been opposed by environmentalist and others who worry about coal dust pollution, increased train traffic from the mines in Montana and Wyoming and greenhouse gas emissions from coal burning in Asia.