Sweeping review planned for Southwest Washington coal-export terminal

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Updated: February 12, 2014, 11:42 AM

 

SEATTLE — State and local regulators said Wednesday they’ll consider a sweeping environmental review of the effects of a proposed terminal along the Columbia River in Washington that would export millions of tons of coal to Asia.

The review of the $650 million Millennium Bulk Terminals project will consider effects that extend well beyond the site, including the global-warming effects of burning the exported coal in Asia and rail impacts as coal is shipped by train from the Rockies throughout the state.

The announcement represents a victory for project opponents, who had pushed for a more comprehensive study.

“It’s appropriate for such a massive project,” said Brett VandenHeuvel, executive director of the Columbia Riverkeeper. “It’s encouraging to see the agencies take to heart the deep public interest in protecting our communities.”

Ken Miller, president and CEO of Millennium Bulk Terminals-Longview, issued a brief statement Wednesday saying the company had hoped to be hiring workers now, two years after submitting permits, but was pleased the agencies are moving forward.

“We appreciate the support we received during the scoping process from the labor, agricultural and business communities throughout the state,” Miller said. A spokesman for Miller said he would not be available for an interview.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the National Association of Manufacturers and other groups had argued for a narrower focus, saying there’s no precedent for such a far-reaching analysis.

The project, planned by Ambre Energy Ltd. and Arch Coal Inc., would handle up to 44 million metric tons of Rocky Mountain coal at a terminal near Longview.

It’s one of three coal-export docks proposed in Washington and Oregon. The other projects are near Bellingham and Boardman, Ore.

On Tuesday, Oregon regulators issued three permits for an Ambre Energy project in Boardman but threw up a new hurdle. The Department of Environmental Quality said it would require the project to seek a water-quality certification sought by opponents.

The Coyote Island Terminal in Boardman would bring up to 8.8 million tons of coal a year by train from Montana or Wyoming. The coal would be loaded onto enclosed barges at the terminal and then shipped down the Columbia River, where it would be loaded onto Asia-bound ships in Port Westward in Clatskanie.

The scoping review announced in Washington on Wednesday is only the first step in a yearslong process to determine the project’s environmental effects. Such a review is required before many local, state and federal permits can be approved. The county and state are conducting one review, while the Army Corps of Engineers is doing a separate one.

Last July, Ecology and Whatcom County officials said they would consider a broad scope when reviewing the Gateway Pacific terminal coal-export dock proposed near Bellingham.

The corps has not yet announced the scope of its review in the Longview case, but it previously declined to take a wider scope in its review of the Cherry Point project.