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News / Opinion / Editorials
The following is presented as part of The Columbian’s Opinion content, which offers a point of view in order to provoke thought and debate of civic issues. Opinions represent the viewpoint of the author. Unsigned editorials represent the consensus opinion of The Columbian’s editorial board, which operates independently of the news department.

In Our View: No to Oil Terminal

Tesoro-Savage proposal doesn’t pass tests to justify state granting permits

The Columbian
Published: June 22, 2017, 6:03am

With numerous factors resulting in a complex debate, it is imperative to occasionally whittle discussion about a proposed oil terminal in Vancouver down to its essence. That essence amounts to environmental protection, safety, and energy availability.

That is how the state Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council spells out the factors it will consider regarding the proposed Tesoro-Savage terminal at the Port of Vancouver. Specifically, the EFSEC website notes: “The Legislature cited the necessity of balancing the need for new energy facilities with the broad interests of the public. As part of the balancing process, the Council must take into account protection of environmental quality, the safety of energy facilities, and concern for energy availability.” Once those factors are weighed, a recommendation will be sent to the governor for a final decision.

The need for distilling the issue to its basic elements was highlighted last week when the Seattle City Council unanimously approved a resolution urging state agencies to deny permits for the oil terminal and all other “new fossil fuel infrastructure projects” within the state. That includes a proposed methanol refinery at the Port of Kalama.

Critics have claimed that it is easy for Seattle, with a booming economy, to oppose ideas that might benefit outlying areas. But when it comes to environmental concerns, what happens in Vancouver or Kalama does not stay in Vancouver or Kalama. The issues are of importance to all citizens. With its decision, Seattle joins a chorus of municipal governments that have opposed fossil fuel projects. The Vancouver City Council last year approved a ban on some facilities — a move that does not impact the already proposed Tesoro-Savage facility. Equally important, the Seattle decision brings to light important discussions about statewide input regarding energy facilities and the factors that should play a role in the issue.

The Columbian long has editorially opposed the Tesoro-Savage proposal, believing that it would be detrimental to Clark County. The facility would bring up to 15 million gallons of crude oil each day by rail down the Columbia River Gorge, through populated areas, to the Port of Vancouver. There, the crude would be transferred to marine vessels for transport down the Columbia River. It would be the largest rail-to-marine oil facility in the United States.

The oil terminal would invite environmental degradation through a vast increase in rail cars, the possibility of derailment, and emissions during the transfer process. It would present safety risks, as demonstrated by a spate of derailments that includes a tragedy in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, that killed 47 people in 2013. And it likely would do little to enhance energy availability for local residents, with the oil being shipped out of the region and, possibly, to overseas markets.

From an aesthetic standpoint, there is no defense for the proposal. A large oil terminal in Vancouver would mark the city as an oil town, not only leading to numerous trains but inviting related industries and altering the culture of the region. As we have mentioned in the past, having the nation’s largest rail-to-marine terminal is not the kind of thing Vancouver would proudly promote on a travel brochure.

Aesthetics are not a factor that will be considered by the siting council, no matter their importance to local residents. But the proposed terminal fails to pass the tests of environment, safety, and energy.

Those factors should be enough to lead state officials to deny permits for the project, with or without the Seattle City Council’s input.