Thursday, September 23, 2021
Sept. 23, 2021

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In Our View: Update Energy Site Process

Longview coal terminal proposal underscores need for clear, concise rules

The Columbian

The continuing battle over a proposed coal terminal in Longview is troubling on several levels. We hope that, for the good of Washington, the project is eventually rejected or abandoned; equally important, we hope it leads to changes in the permitting process for large energy facilities.

Clark County residents can relate. Earlier this year, Gov. Jay Inslee rejected a proposed oil-by-rail terminal at the Port of Vancouver — after 4 1/2 years of contentious public debate. Because that process felt interminable, we have empathy for the people of Cowlitz County, who have been pondering Millennium Bulk Terminals’ $680 million coal facility since it was proposed in 2012.

The terminal would be the largest coal export outlet in North America, a fact that lends some context to the proposal. While a project of such scale requires due deliberation from state regulators, it also should require some expediency. Although there can be no definitive parameters for the length of the approval process, it is safe to say that six years is unnecessarily long.

Meanwhile, the project sheds additional light on the vision Washingtonians have for their state. Last year, upon learning that Washington had been selected by CNBC as the nation’s best state for business, Inslee said: “Why did we top the list? Because we’re the most talented state, the most connected state and the most innovative state in the union. My top priority as governor is to continue to nurture our thriving economic climate that spurs job growth and keeps us at the top echelon for years to come. We know that a cleaner planet, happy and healthy workers and a growing economy can go hand-in-hand.”

That philosophy, we believe, is embraced by a majority of the state’s residents. Washington is a leader in green-energy projects and has created a booming economy without catering to fossil-fuel interests. That reflects a clear vision for the future, a vision that helped scuttle the oil-terminal proposal in Vancouver.

In Longview, the terminal project has been denied an aquatic lease for the coal dock and a water quality permit. Those denials were upheld by the state Shoreline Hearing Board upon appeal, but Millennium is continuing to pursue the project.

Notably, according to The (Longview) Daily News, Millennium and parent company Lighthouse Resources are hopeful that a renegotiated North American Free Trade Agreement could open a door for the terminal. Negotiations on the trade agreement have not been open to public scrutiny, and Jasmine Zimmer-Stucky of advocacy group Power Past Coal told The Daily News, “It’s outrageous for the coal industry to strike a backroom deal with the Trump administration to try to do an end-run around state law and force through this dirty project.”

All of this is relevant to Clark County residents, who have a vested interest in the number of coal trains traveling through the area and protections for the Columbia River. Any project designed to annually handle 44 million tons of coal should be subject to local and state laws. If officials follow those laws in denying permits for the terminal, the federal government would be remiss to intervene.

Strong arguments can be made in favor of the terminal and the economic boost it would provide for Cowlitz County. But environmental issues do not stop at the county line; they are of concern to the rest of the state and particularly to nearby Clark County. As residents here proclaimed when considering an oil terminal, we must approach new fossil-fuel projects with caution.