In Our View: Speed up EFSEC Process

Vancouver Energy terminal proposal has gone unresolved for far too long

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We assume that, eventually, the state Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council will finalize a report regarding a proposed oil terminal at the Port of Vancouver. Then again, assumptions are fraught with peril, and at this point there is reason to question whether the process ever will be completed.

Last week, EFSEC granted a request by Vancouver Energy to extend the deadline on the application to Nov. 30. That marks the seventh extension to a process that was launched in 2013 when Tesoro Corp. and Savage Cos. — now acting in conjunction as Vancouver Energy — reached an agreement with port officials to build the terminal. In addition, council chair Bill Lynch announced plans to resign this fall, a move that might or might not lead to further delays.

As the high-profile proposal continues to meander through the permitting process, one thing has become clear: Once a decision is reached — or maybe if one is reached — it will be time for Washington to reconsider how it goes about approving such projects. The Tesoro-Savage proposal has lingered far too long and has been far too burdensome for the stakeholders and for citizens of Clark County.

Due deliberation and thoughtful consideration of large projects are, indeed, necessary. Public complaints about government often revolve around two themes: Officials acted hastily, and there was not enough public input. That is not the case with the Tesoro-Savage proposal, which has been lengthy and has included numerous public comment sessions.

And there is, indeed, some logic behind the system, which was created in 1970 by the Legislature. As the EFSEC website explains, the agency was formed to “provide ‘one stop’ siting and permitting for large energy projects. By establishing the council, the state Legislature centralized the evaluation and oversight of large energy facilities within one state agency. The Legislature cited the necessity of balancing the need for new energy facilities with the broad interests of the public.” The council was designed to reduce bureaucracy, but EFSEC members have spent four years compiling a recommendation that will go to the governor for approval or rejection of the project.

The Columbian editorially opposes the project, which would transport an average of 15 million gallons of crude oil a day to the Port of Vancouver. The oil would be brought from the Bakken region of North Dakota by rail, traveling through the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area to be transferred at the port to marine vessels. The presence of such a facility would mark Vancouver as an oil town and would run counter to an appropriate vision for a vibrant city. The risks to residents and to the environment from a vast increase in oil-train traffic outweigh the benefits trumpeted by supporters of the project.

While we hope that a thorough and fair evaluation by EFSEC and the governor results in rejection of the proposal, we also call for a resolution to the contentious issue. The frequent delays have poorly served the public, port officials, and the companies involved in the project.

State law dictates that evaluation of an energy project be completed within one year. While it is reasonable to expect delays in some instances, the council’s lack of progress on the Tesoro-Savage project has extended well beyond the bounds of acceptability. The Legislature should take whatever steps are necessary to tighten up the process and keep other communities from suffering through interminable delays.