In Our View: EFSEC Makes Right Call

Panel correct that review of oil terminal plan must include greenhouse gases

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Of course they should consider everything. If you’re purchasing a car, you look at gas mileage and price and the interior and the style of headlights and the number of cupholders … Buying a house? Well, then you consider the price and the neighborhood and the square-footage and the local schools and the molding and the light fixtures …

All factors come under scrutiny when making a major decision; the only question is how much weight each item is afforded. You won’t turn down a house solely because of the light fixtures, but they might make the difference if all other things are equal.

Which brings us to a decision last week by the state’s Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council to weigh every possible factor when considering the construction of an oil terminal at the Port of Vancouver. Port commissioners last year approved a deal that would build a terminal to handle up to 380,000 barrels of crude a day. The oil would arrive by train, be transferred to the terminal, and then be loaded onto ships for delivery to refineries throughout the United States.

The proposal will be examined by EFSEC, which will file a report with Gov. Jay Inslee, who will make the final decision. The Columbian has written editorially in opposition to the proposal, arguing that it would not be in the best interests of Vancouver, Clark County, and the whole of Washington. The negative environmental impact of bringing millions of barrels of crude each year down the Columbia River Gorge, through densely populated areas, outweighs the benefits.

Regardless of one’s opinion of the oil-terminal proposal, the decision to undergo a sweeping environmental analysis is the only defensible one. And still the decision lands in the middle of one of the most contentious economic debates of our time. By considering the environmental impact from the extraction of the oil to its ultimate consumption, EFSEC council members are opening the door to the consideration of greenhouse gases and their impact on global warming. “There’s some question of whether it fits into an area that’s speculative,” Chairman Bill Lynch said during a council meeting last week in Vancouver. “Some general analysis is appropriate because, obviously, burning fossil fuels creates greenhouse gases.”

The area might be speculative, yet the council would be remiss to ignore it. If nothing else, failing to examine the impact of the crude oil once it is refined and burned would open the door to drawn-out legal challenges by opponents if the terminal eventually is approved by the governor.

We don’t think Inslee will approve the project; we think anybody who closely examines the proposal will agree that it is wrong for Vancouver and wrong for Washington. But in arriving at that decision, every factor should be considered.

Last week’s announcement that EFSEC would consider the impact of the crude from extraction to use was largely seen as a victory for opponents of the terminal. And it might well be; certainly, anything that could be viewed as adding another hoop to jump through could be considered a victory. But the question remains: How much weight will it be given? The fact remains that if the oil doesn’t come here, it will go elsewhere to be refined, and it eventually will wind up in our cars. The idea that if it comes to Vancouver it eventually will become greenhouse gases should be a small factor in the discussion of the proposed oil terminal, but it clearly should be considered.