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Coal Train, Part Two: An insider's guide to the coal port's environmental review

Different agencies, different laws and lots of science and partisan passion will collide before we know the fate of Gateway Pacific.

(Page 2 of 3)

As part of the Gateway evaluation, the Corps has the authority to assess the impact of similar proposals in the region. Of particular interest is the Millennium Bulk Terminals project on the Columbia River at Longview, similar in size to the Cherry Point project. The Corps plans to begin a separate scoping process for Millennium in a few months. They will wait for those findings before deciding if an area-wide review should be part of the Gateway evaluation.

Millennium probably won't generate the kind of statewide scoping meetings that were held for Gateway; by now, the agencies of record are well aware of the regional issues that citizens want examined. Which means that the Millennium scoping should proceed at a faster and more-localized pace, although some of those who testified at the Gateway Pacific scoping meetings may appear in Longview.

Millennium will also be reviewed by a joint-agency team, with Cowlitz County taking the place of Whatcom County. Although the sites are quite different, both projects involve a large body of water, about 18 coal trains daily and a thousand big ships a year.

Once the cooperating agencies agree on the scope of the EIS, the Gateway process will move behind closed doors for at least a year while CH2M Hill and its subcontractors study the issues within the scope. During this phase, project developer SSA Marine will interact directly with the review teams. A Draft EIS could be available by late 2015.  

The publication of the Draft EIS, essentially a massive set of studies in the fields that emerged from the scoping process, will trigger another round of public hearings. Unlike the public "scoping" meetings, these hearings will focus solely on the Draft EIS. Agencies with knowledge and jurisdiction, as well as interested citizens and groups will have the opportunity to comment on the quality of the evidence, the range of alternatives and the evaluation of impacts and mitigation measures. By law, every written comment must receive a response. Lawyers, subject matter experts and citizens on both sides of the terminal issue will attack the document, hoping to have it amended. When all the dust has cleared, officials from the three key agencies (Whatcom County, Ecology and the Army Corps) will then prepare the Final EIS, submit it to the decision-makers and then wait — likely, for months.

The deciders have several options: They can reject the project as submitted, approve it or approve it with conditions. Historically, projects the size of Gateway are seldom approved without conditions. The project's viability depends on the nature and extent of any conditions. Either side, or both sides have the right to appeal the decision in court.

Critical in the entire EIS process is defining the geographic and topical boundaries of the review. For example, opponents want to broaden the geographic scope by demanding a study of the rail impacts from the Powder River Basin coal fields to Cherry Point, a distance of 1,000 miles.

As for topical expansion, since climate change has returned to the world agenda and since coal is a major contributor to climate change, including Gateway's impacts on this phenomenon in the EIS could have global implications.  

In like manner, the breadth of scientific studies widens if environmental reviews expand beyond Gateway Pacific’s thousand-acre site at Cherry Point. The impact of more shipping on whale migrations and the dangers of collisions or spills in the San Juan Islands are just a few of the issues opponents have raised. Onshore, opponents point to BNSF’s massive coal trains all along the shipping route, demanding health studies about the impact of diesel emissions, coal dust and safety.

SSA Marine, its partners and supporters would prefer that the EIS stay limited to the site itself. The group opposes linking GPT to other coal port proposals in the region, such as Millennium. BNSF is sure to make the point that interstate commerce is governed by federal law and a federal agency with wide jurisdiction over railroads.


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Comments:

Posted Wed, Jan 23, 12:10 p.m. Inappropriate

I think the owners of the vast majority of the coal deposits in the US should think long term and demand changes in our outdated mining laws before we get too far down this 'give it to China' syndrome road.
How much does the Federal Government get per ton on average for the coal it gives companies like Peabody to mine?
What will that be worth in 20 or 100 years?
When diesel fuel becomes expensive to produce from oil, will coal>diesel plants become our next big thing in providing for our enormous appetite for carbon based energy? http://www.greencarcongress.com/2012/08/usf-20120822.html
I'm not too worried about 100 stevedore jobs here or there, when the stakes are so high elsewhere.

007

Posted Wed, Jan 23, 10 p.m. Inappropriate

You should be more worried about the impacts to the global climate and ocean acidification if we continue to emit CO2 at current rates.

louploup

Posted Thu, Jan 24, 11:55 a.m. Inappropriate

Answer: The coal companies pay a 12.5% royalty on the coal "at the mine mouth" or about $1.25 to $1.50 per ton, plus their leasing fees to strip mine the PRB lands, typically less (often much less) than $1.00 per ton. After some small adjustments, these fees and royalties are divided 50-50 between the feds, on the one hand, and Montana or Wyoming, on the other.

mriordan

Posted Wed, Jan 23, 1:58 p.m. Inappropriate

A little historical perspective is needed here. Until the middle of the 20th century US prosperity was based primarily on exploiting an abundance of natural resources without the limitation or expense of a complex regulatory regime. Then for a short period the US had a vibrant manufacturing economy whose remarkable wealth creation was sufficient to support the luxurious costs of a regulatory scheme that mitigated (to some degree) the adverse impacts attendant to its generation.

But now we are coming full circle. Local manufacturing is disappearing and we are returning to our origins as a Third World resource economy. Except that we still retain the absurd regulatory burdens of our prior golden age. This unnecessary administrative superstructure is outmoded and will have to go. It is well known that Third World economies only generate enough wealth to provide a comfortable living to those at the very top. Plus one really has to wonder how long our Chinese masters will want to put up with this inefficient crap. There inevitably will be a limit to their renowned patience and benevolence. If the citizens of Beijing can adapt to wearing gas masks as they go about their daily lives, why can't we?

woofer

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