Federal decision hands coal ports a big victory

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has decided on a limited review of environmental effects for a proposed coal port at Bellingham. Opponents have sought a broader study of sending coal to China for burning.
Coal trains already go to the Westshore Terminals Roberts Bank facility at Delta, British Columbia.

Coal trains already go to the Westshore Terminals Roberts Bank facility at Delta, British Columbia. Paul Anderson, Chuckanut Conservancy

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.


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Comments:

Posted Tue, Jun 18, 3:08 p.m. Inappropriate

I think opposing a full NEPA review is a strategic error by coal export proponents. The COE decision to conduct a truncated review is certain to be litigated in federal court. Even if the COE and King Coal eventually win, that litigation will delay the project years.

I always thought industry preferred certainty. If they told the feds to conduct the full review, it would take a bit longer, but the ability of opponents to delay in court thereafter would be severely reduced.

One might say the full EIS would show how awful the impacts are, but it's easy to obscure them in a 1000 pages document without actually lying. In any case, NEPA is purely procedural; the EIS could say 'we're all gonna die next year', but if we get 100 more jobs this year, the courts (especially our winners on the Big Nine) won't second guess the determination.

OK, all you environmental lawyers; am I missing something?

louploup

Posted Wed, Jun 19, 1:32 p.m. Inappropriate

This is absolutely correct. A narrowly-scoped EIS is only a victory for the coal interests if down the road the courts uphold it.

woofer

Posted Mon, Jun 24, 9:26 p.m. Inappropriate

This barnyard environmental lawyer agrees with you. NEPA is purely procedural and SEPA allows use of NEPA documents to justify a DNS. See WAC 197-11-610 Use of NEPA documents. However, my reading is that the state agency is not required to adopt both the federal analysis and conclusion (presumably a FONSI or mitigated FONSI in this case). It would certainly be extraordinary for WDOE to independently require the project proponents to produce environmental analyses separate and in addition to the federal process, but I see no legal reason why WDOE could not do this. The various politicians with pull should be all over Inslee demanding that he order WDOE to do this.

Steve E.

Posted Tue, Jun 18, 11:05 p.m. Inappropriate

Public sponsored solutions are opposed by private electric utility and transportation companies who would rather consumers worldwide continue to waste energy/fuel.

Consider Plug-in hybrid technology, a mantra Obama chanted frequently early on, but not at all lately.

Every household with a plug-in hybrid gains the means to closely monitor household electricity and conserve; gains the choice to use electricity for driving or cut utility bills; gains a lifesaving portable power supply during emergency and grid failure; reduces cost of rooftop photovoltiac solar panel systems as their battery pack is 1/3 to 1/4 the size of all-electric subcompacts, thus more households can afford a hybrid/solar system, drive less, walk/bicycle and use transit more.

Conclusion: Plug-in hybrids last years longer, require less maintenance, have higher resale value, get in fewer accidents, and reduce household energy consumption. Private utilities, car manufacturers, dealers, financiers, insurers, TV-radio advertizers parking garage moguls and various stakeholders would rather the public not use their conservative or liberal noggins on this issue and discover a solution. Globalization is another plot conceived by the Highway Robbery Boys to kill off the excess population.

Wells

Posted Wed, Jun 19, 2:39 p.m. Inappropriate

Exactly as I predicted. Clearly, the fix is in -- has been from the very beginning. Once again we see how, in the United States of George Bush, Barack Obama and their Wall Street masters, "democratic process" is nothing more than a Big Lie. Thus, just as Washington state is being reduced to a de facto theocracy by the Roman Catholic takeover of health care, so is it being transmogrified to Appalachia West by capitalism. Coincidental? I think not: remember Marx, specifically how religion is used to opiate the people.

Posted Wed, Jun 19, 3:31 p.m. Inappropriate

But Marx is passe. He came way before the internet. Now blogging is the opiate of the people.

woofer

Posted Wed, Jun 19, 5:53 p.m. Inappropriate

Apropos Marx, au contraire. (See, for example, http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2012/jul/04/the-return-of-marxism.)

As for blogging, you're right. but that's only until the illusion of its democratic effectiveness is terminated by the Reich Security Serv...er, oops, sorry, the Department of Homeland Security, undoubtedly by mass arrests.(Why else collect all that secret-police data?)

Until then we're merely -- as it says in a very old song -- "headin' for the last round-up." After that it's a whole new ballgame, one in which Marx has already many times proven his relevance.

Posted Sat, Jun 29, 8:15 a.m. Inappropriate

Floyd, it is not correct that only NEPA allows scoping impacts across borders. SEPA rules say "In assessing the significance of an impact, a lead agency shall not limit its consideration of a proposal's impacts only to those aspects within its jurisdiction, including local or state boundaries...." WAC 197-11-060(4)(b).

TJW

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