State attorney general: Say no to oil terminal project

Ferguson says potential risks, costs outweigh benefits

By Lauren Dake, Columbian Political Writer

Published:

 

Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson

One of the most influential voices weighing in on the nation’s largest proposed oil-by-rail terminal recommended rejecting the Vancouver project.

“Protecting the environment and public safety are top priorities of my office, and we considered the evidence presented with the care those priorities demands,” Washington’s Attorney General Bob Ferguson said in a statement on Thursday. “The bottom line is that the potential benefits of this project are dramatically outweighed by the potential risks and costs of a spill.”

The decision from the attorney general’s office to oppose the Vancouver Energy project could send a strong message to Gov. Jay Inslee, who has the ultimate say over the project’s future.

Ferguson warned that the “potential environmental consequences and impacts to the public (from an oil spill) are massive,” even if proponents of the project argue they are statistically low.

Ferguson’s announcement is a result of a decision by attorney Matthew Kernutt, who serves as the Counsel for the Environment, a state position in the attorney general’s office that is key in the regulatory review process for the project.

“The counsel for the environment is the independent voice,” said Jim Luce, former chairman of the Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council.

The council has been reviewing the proposed 360,000-barrel-per-day terminal in a trial-like process, allowing both proponents and opponents to testify and present their case. Today is the final day of the adjudication process, and each side will present their closing remarks.

“(Kernutt) heard all the testimony and determined the project is not appropriate,” Luce said. “It’s not in the public’s interest. It’s not in the interest of the people of the state of Washington, not just the people in Clark County or Vancouver or the port district, but the people in the state of Washington.”

After considering the testimony and evidence, the evaluation council will make a recommendation to the governor, who then has 60 days to reject or approve the project, or send it back with suggested changes.

Kernutt’s opinion will likely weigh heavily on both the council and governor.

“When I was chair (of the environmental council, for 13 years) I’ve never had the counsel for the environment take such a strong position,” Luce said.

If the Vancouver Energy project, a joint venture by Tesoro Corp. and Savage Cos., is completed at the Port of Vancouver, an additional 3,000 oil trains would run through the state, according to the attorney general’s office.

“Testimony at the EFSEC review showed that a spill would negatively impact Washington’s environment, and the communities that depend on it, for many years,” Ferguson’s office said in the statement.

Vancouver Energy argued that the project’s risks are manageable.

Vancouver Energy spokeswoman Tina Barbee quoted a marine scientist at one of the hearings, saying “there is an extraordinary amount of spill response capability in Washington state and along the Columbia River.”

Vancouver Energy released the following statement late Thursday: “Five weeks of adjudicative proceedings conclude on Friday; this will give the Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council a good set of facts and information to consider when making its recommendation to Governor Inslee. A thorough evaluation will clearly demonstrate that the proposed terminal can be designed, constructed and operated in a safe and environmentally responsible way, while offering benefits to the state of Washington and the West Coast.”