Locomotive emissions from trains serving the proposed Longview coal export terminal would increase the cancer risk rate for Longview’s Highlands-area residents by 10 percent over background county levels, state and county officials said Friday. The terminal itself would also cause a wide range of adverse environmental impacts, according to the long-awaited final environment impact statement on Millennium Bulk Terminals $680 million project.
Cowlitz County and Washington Ecology officials released the 11,000-page document Friday. Printed copies will not be available, but the report can be found online at millenniumbulkeiswa.gov.
By Friday afternoon, Millennium was already challenging Ecology’s cancer findings, pointing to different figures in the report that suggest there would be a 3 percent increase in cancer risk. But Ecology officials continued to stick by their statements.
A record number of comments were submitted on the project, with 267,000 commentators weighing in on what would be one of North America’s biggest coal export terminals. The permitting process has taken five years and has been among the most hotly-debated projects ever proposed in the Lower Columbia River area.
“We spent the bulk of our time and effort really focusing on the potential impacts to the local community, where impacts would be greatest,” said Elaine Placido, Building and Planning director for Cowlitz County, in a prepared statement. “We received an unprecedented 267,000 comments, so it was clear to us that people are really interested in this project.”
Millennium officials noted that the release of the EIS is an important milestone in project, which would create more than 1,000 construction jobs, 130 permanent jobs and $5.4 million in annual state and local taxes.
“We have carefully designed the project to protect air and water quality, fish and wildlife, groundwater and people in accordance with regulatory requirements,” said Bill Chapman, president and CEO of Millennium.
The report evaluates 23 environmental areas, finding adverse impacts in 19 of them, according to a joint-press release from Ecology and Cowlitz County. Impacts include filling wetlands, dredging riverbed, injuring fish and increasing greenhouse gas emissions. It also identifies unavoidable impacts in nine areas: air quality, vehicle traffic, vessel traffic, rail capacity, rail safety, noise pollution, social and community resources, cultural resources and tribal resources.
The new analysis confirmed earlier conclusions that coal dust would not exceed air quality standards for human health. However, updated information in the report found that locomotive diesel particulate matter would cause an “unavoidable increase in cancer risk rates in a neighborhood along the rail line in Longview.” Part of the revised analysis is due to a reappraisal that concluded that four locomotives will be needed to pull coal trains to the dock, not three as assumed earlier.
“Low-income and frontline neighborhoods will be hit hardest by increased cancer risks, as was confirmed in the document released today. As a cancer doctor, I’m acutely aware that we must prevent what we cannot cure; we simply cannot allow this dangerous project to proceed,” said Dr. Stephen Chandler of Longview, in a press release from anti-coal groups.
Still, the number of locomotives serving the terminal woud be a small percentage of those that hundreds that pass through Kelso and dozens of other communities in Western Washington every day.
Supporters of the coal terminal questioned the reports’ findings on locomotive diesel particulate and associated cancer risk.
“DOE’s assertion regarding a maximum 16 train trips is seemingly an indictment against rail service across the state, which transports grain, lumber, Boeing aircraft fuselages, and the consumer products we all rely on every day,” said Mariana Parks, spokeswoman for Alliance for Northwest Jobs and Exports, a pro-Millennium group, in a prepared statement.
Parks asked what implications this would mean for other trains not associated with the project and whether Ecology is suggesting these other trains also increase cancer risk.
“By making this allegation today, DOE violates the very methodology of the expansive scope it chose to evaluate the project’s impacts, and instead chose to look in isolation at the alleged impacts of train operations for a specific commodity, ignoring the example of expansive rail operations across the state,” Parks added.
The 1.3-mile long unit trains also would cause traffic jams in peak commute times in Cowlitz County, the report said. Coal trains would close the busy Industrial Way/Oregon Way intersection a total of about two hours a day. (The analysis was done assuming that no Industrial Way/Oregon Way improvements are made, but they are under design and have been funded by the Legislature).
Overall, the project would increase U.S. exports of coal by 40 percent and global greenhouse gas emissions would rise by about 2 million metric tons annually, the report found. Originally county and state officials had recommended that Millennium “mitigate” — or compensate — for just half of those emissions. Now they’re recommending Millennium mitigate for all of the 2 million metric tons.
Millennium criticized the report for suggesting that it mitigate for off-site emissions.
“It is not reasonable to expect any company to mitigate for other people’s emissions. That would be like asking the public ports in Washington and Oregon to mitigate for the half a million cars they import every year,” said Wendy Hutchinson, vice president of public affairs for Millennium.
The Association of Washington Business said report will have a chilling effect on business and job creation in the state.
“This sets a troubling precedent. At a time when we’re competing in a global marketplace, employers need certainty and predictability. ... especially for areas of the state in need of job growth and economic development,” said Kris Johnson, president of the the association, in a prepared statement.
While environmentalists saw flaws in the report, they also said it confirms some of their concerns about adverse environmental impacts from the project.
“The FEIS falls short in a number of respects. It continues to treat coal dust dismissively. It doesn’t incorporate the findings of a separate Health Impact Assessment that is underway,” said Kristen Boyles, attorney with Earthjustice. “It seriously underestimates the amount of greenhouse gas emissions that this project would have, ignoring extensive technical criticism of the draft. It nonetheless documents a host of totally unacceptable impacts that by themselves should easily trigger denial from the state and local regulatory agencies. It’s time to move on.”
The statement is not a decision or a permit. Rather it’s an analysis that will be used by 10 agencies to consider more than 20 permits needed for the project.