The lead federal agency reviewing Northwest coal-export terminals has rejected an area-wide approach in its study and will examine the terminals on a case-by-case basis, a Congressional committee heard today from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
The Corps' decision is good news for the Gateway Pacific Terminal proposed north of Bellingham, the Millennium Bulk Terminal at Longview and a smaller terminal at the Port of Morrow on the Columbia River.
Opponents of the terminals, which have been planned for massive shipments of coal that would be burned in Asia, have insisted that the cumulative impacts on rail traffic and climate change call for a unified study. Only the Corps can undertake a review that would cross state borders.
“The Corps will limit consideration to the facilities, but effects of the burning of the coal is too far removed from our actions to be considered as an effect of our actions,” said Jennifer Moyer, the Corps’ acting chief of regulatory programs. Moyer also rejected an area-wide review of railroad traffic issues, saying that was beyond the Corps’ control. She said district commanders in Seattle and Portland would make the decisions on the individual proposals.
In Washington state, the Corps has teamed with the state Department of Ecology and host counties (Whatcom and Cowlitz) to conduct environmental reviews. Oregon agencies are involved on the Morrow project but the Corps has yet to decide if it will even do a full environmental review there.
Although Moyer’s statement to the House Commerce and Energy Committee is the first confirmation that the Corps will limit its review, the Corps has never indicated interest in an area-wide review. Opponents had hoped that the Obama administration, through its Council on Environmental Quality, would intervene to put climate change on the table. Democrats on the committee urged the Corps to reconsider.
Rep. Henry Waxman of California, the committee’s ranking Democrat, told Moyer, “The Corps is making a big mistake ... I urge you to reconsider.” Waxman cited the effect on climate change of burning more coal in Asia. Moyer agreed with the importance of burning coal to climate change, but repeated, “These issues are not part of the Corps' scope of analysis.”
Democrats on the committee pushed Moyer on her statements, but she insisted “we don’t control coal mining, we don’t control shipping by rail.”
Republicans on the committee praised the Corps but Rep. Ed Whitfield, R-Kentucky, who chaired the hearing, condemned the Obama administration: “In the energy sector the most important issue to this administration is global warming, more important than jobs and the trade deficit, more important that the opportunity to reduce global poverty. That’s why people are coming to America to ask for our energy. And yet this president is making the statement that global warming is more important than anything else when it comes to energy.”
Republicans stressed jobs and economic benefits from exporting coal and natural gas and pushed a panel of regulators to streamline the process; some of the House Republicans talked about a “war on coal.” Fred Upton of Michigan blasted environmentalists for delaying energy projects. Many people in the world have no electricity and the United States, he said, should be a “force of change to bring nations out of poverty.”
All that is missing is infrastructure, said Upton, “The cumbersome federal approval process is out of step. ... The private sector has made rapid progress in unlocking our energy.” Video of the hearing is here, click on "Energy Abundance."
Assuming the Corps’ decision stands, opponents of the terminals will increase their pressure on state and county agencies. The Corps has jurisdiction over the waters of Puget Sound and the Columbia River, and also is charged with negotiating with Native American nations. In the case of Gateway Pacific, the Lummi Nation has been prominent in its opposition to the terminal.
Like what you just read? Support high quality local journalism. Become a member of Crosscut today!