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Longview coal port gets part of what it wants

Both sides claim victory as Washington and Oregon act on two coal port proposals.
Ambre Energy has proposed a coal port for this Longview site along the Columbia River.

Ambre Energy has proposed a coal port for this Longview site along the Columbia River. Floyd McKay

Ambre Energy ran into no red lights on its two Columbia River coal-export projects Wednesday, but the Australia-based company remains far from receiving the green light it hopes to achieve from regulators in Washington and Oregon.

The company’s coal-transfer project at Boardman on the Columbia, upriver from Portland, received three permits by the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality but the same agency told Ambre it must also apply for a different certification of water quality. Opponents of the project said that requirement could kill the project.

On the Washington side of the river at Longview, a joint statement by Cowlitz County and the state Department of Ecology announced plans to begin drafting an environmental impact statement, but warned that it would be broad in its scope and could take into consideration train and vessel traffic from other proposed projects. Ambre is partnered with Arch Coal to develop Millennium Bulk Terminals at Longview.

As with the Oregon project, Millennium opponents were buoyed by the news. The scope is similar to that earlier announced for the Gateway Pacific Terminal north of Bellingham. In all of the regional coal-export proposals, opponents have generated public reaction unprecedented in regional environmental squabbles.

The Millennium review will coincide with the EIS review of the Gateway Pacific Terminal (GPT). There may be overlap in the studies, allowing the type of cumulative regional review opponents have sought.

Sally Toteff, director of Washington Ecology’s Southwest Region, told Crosscut, “We will look at cumulative impacts such as from trains from reasonably foreseeable [other] projects.  By 'reasonably foreseeable' we mean a project that has been proposed and is not speculative, for example, it has applied for permits. The GPT proposal has started its environmental review so it would be considered 'reasonably foreseeable' and we would include that information as part of our review. Information from the Gateway EIS can be incorporated into the Millennium EIS if available.” It is possible that oil-train impacts would also be included, Toteff added.

Both of the Washington projects' environmental reviews are expect to take up to two years; opponents have called for a cumulative study involving all coal-export proposals (and now oil trains as well), and this may be the closest to that comprehensive review that the region will get. Coal trains bound for Longview would not transit major Puget Sound cities and ships would not enter the Sound. But both Millennium and Gateway trains would increase rail traffic in Eastern Washington and the Columbia Gorge, as would oil trains bound for the Coast.

In Spokane, a hub for two major railways, City Council President Ben Stuckert said in a Power Past Coal news release, “Spokane has much to lose, and little to gain by allowing all these new coal trains through our town. Such an increase would harm our air quality, transportation systems, and emergency response. Today is a great step in the right direction for Spokane.”

Ambre has been pursuing coal exports from Columbia River ports for three years. The Longview project hit the rocks in 2011 when opponents turned up emails showing that the company had misled regulators on how much coal it would export. A year later, it filed applications to export 44 million tons a year, about the same volume as Gateway. The smaller project at Boardman would accept 8 million tons of coal a year, transfer it to Columbia River barges and then to Asia-bound ships at St. Helens, downriver from Portland.

The Boardman project — Morrow Pacific —was granted air- and water-quality permits and a stormwater construction permit Wednesday by the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality. But the agency also announced, “a further water quality certification — called a 401 certification — is appropriate for the project. DEQ is consulting with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Ambre Energy on the next steps for this certification.” The certification covers projects that may create discharges of pollutants into any U.S. waters.


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Comments:

Posted Wed, Feb 12, 6:38 p.m. Inappropriate

The permit process will drag on and on and on and perhaps with good luck by the time for approval or disapproval the need for the coal port will have disappeared.

Djinn

Posted Wed, Feb 12, 8:56 p.m. Inappropriate

"A broadly scoped EIS that considers train and vessel traffic from other proposed projects.." What is good for coal exports should be good for oil terminals as well.

Posted Thu, Feb 13, 12:48 p.m. Inappropriate

"On the Washington side of the river at Longview, a joint statement by Cowlitz County and the state Department of Ecology announced plans to begin drafting an environmental impact statement, but warned that it would be broad in its scope and could take into consideration train and vessel traffic from other proposed projects….

"The Millennium review will coincide with the EIS review of the Gateway Pacific Terminal (GPT). There may be overlap in the studies, allowing the type of cumulative regional review opponents have sought."

Although framed as a concession to opponents, what this really means (as I have suggested before) is that the coal interests will eventually agree to channel all shipments through whichever port first succeeds in running the permitting maze. By providing overlapping analyses of "train and vessel traffic from other proposed projects" in each EIS, each port will be capable of supporting a last-minute shift of all trains to the successful applicant without having to perform major new environmental studies.

A cursory review of the rail haul routes will quickly tell you which port has the best chance of ultimate permitting success -- Longview. It has the shortest rail route and, more critically, one that completely avoids crossing the Puget Sound urban area where the opposition efforts are centered. In this scenario the Cherry Point proposal mainly serves as a diversion to draw opponent energy away from focusing on the main chance, Longview.

woofer

Posted Thu, Feb 13, 4:24 p.m. Inappropriate

"Politics is never far from big public projects."

Drop "Public" from this sentence and its correct. This is not a public project. The proponents are private corporations. Even if "Corporations are people, my friend," they are not the public, either writ large or organized in a governing body.

Steve E.

Posted Fri, Feb 14, 12:25 a.m. Inappropriate

Although I have serious concerns about the use of coal as an energy source, the environmental regulations as currently framed do not provide grounds to veto these projects. As stated by Cowlitz County and Ecology, most of the impact analysis will be local... and both projects (Millennium and Gateway) comply with existing land use and zoning regulations. They will also be designed to comply with Corps of Engineers requirements and to obtain 401 water quality certifications (which are certainly appealable--this happened with the Third Runway--but hardly ever prevent a project from getting built). And the Spokane City Council has no jurisdiction whatsoever over interstate commerce.

The rules are set up to establish some level of environmental safeguards for industrial projects--not to prevent them. Preventing coal terminals would require a wholesale overhaul of the existing framework of environmental regulations. Not to say that this wouldn't be worthwhile... it just isn't likely to happen through opposition to individual projects. While the opponents may cheer over this nuance or that in agency rulings, the status quo continues to favor Big Coal.

Jen27

Posted Fri, Feb 14, 3:18 p.m. Inappropriate

The whole coal export/no coal export debate boils down to simple economics. If you don't want coal to be exported to China, don't buy products with a "Made in China" label. As long as US consumers continue to buy their products, the Chinese will continue to innundate the market with their merchandise. Chinese industry requires coal to fuel it. No market, no industry. No industry, no need for coal. Conversely, if the market for products "Made in China" continues to prosper and grow, the Chinese will get the coal to fuel their factories from a source other than the US if need be. How does that make any sense?

jwesmoore

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