Environmental study leaves Longview coal port bloodied but still alive
Coal dust, greenhouse gas emissions, noise and traffic congestion are among the environmental impacts from the proposed coal export terminal in Longview, Washington, according to a draft report released Friday.
The Washington Department of Ecology and Cowlitz County examined the environmental risks of developing the proposed Millennium Bulk Terminals coal export project. The project would export up to 44 million tons of coal a year to Asia after delivering it to Longview by rail from the Rocky Mountain region.
In their study, county and state officials outlined all the potential impacts of the project to air, water, fish, wildlife and communities from transporting the coal, as well as constructing and operating the terminal.
The study found the project will cause significant environmental damage, and not all of the damage can be mitigated.
Officials proposed mitigation measures that include reducing coal dust and greenhouse gas emissions, improving rail lines, preparing for a higher risk of oil spills and adding a quiet zone for trains passing through Longview. But they noted the mitigation measures would not completely eliminate the environmental impacts of the project.
The report found greenhouse gas emissions from the project would be “significant” — under one scenario it would be the equivalent of adding more than 600,000 passenger cars to the road each year. The emissions would affect Washington state even though they are global in nature, officials found.
“The climate impacts resulting from this increase to greenhouse gases would persist for a long period of time,” the report says, “and would be considered permanent.”
Lauren Goldberg, an attorney with the environmental group Columbia Riverkeeper, said the report gives officials all the evidence they need to deny permits for the project.
“The report lays out a laundry list of significant impacts from the project,” she said. “There are number of places where the report identifies the massive amounts of carbon that this project will spew — equivalent to roughly seven new coal-fired power plants. These are stunning impacts for a state like Washington that’s shutting down coal-fired power plants.”
However, she said, the review falls short on mitigation measures that will actually offset the damage from the project, and it fails to fully evaluate the public health impacts of coal dust emissions.
“There’s human health impact study that still needs to be completed and hasn’t been done yet,” she said.
Project developers say the terminal will allow their companies to serve growing Asian demand for coal while improving Washington’s economy and reducing unemployment by creating 135 new jobs. The report found the project would indeed offer benefits to the economy through job creation and by generating local and state taxes.
Kathryn Stenger with Northwest Alliance for Jobs & Exports, which supports the project, called the report “an excessive evaluation.”
“The unprecedented demand to require Millennium to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions that occur on the other side of the globe will create a harrowing process that should terrify any Washington manufacturer or shipper looking to expand its facility,” she said in a statement.
Also among the report’s findings:
- The project would release coal dust during rail transportation and in handling and stockpiling coal at the terminal. The coal dust is not expected to pollute waterways or harm fish, but it would affect air quality and wildlife. It would increase particulate matter around the project site, but there are no federal standards for how much dust the project is allowed to emit.
- Particulate emissions from coal trains would be within standards set by federal and state air-quality regulators, and coal dust along the rail line in Cowlitz County would be an “avoidable but not significant impact.”
- The project could significantly increase rail and vehicle traffic, adding wait times for vehicles at railroad crossings as eight mile-long trains a day deliver coal and leave the Longview facility.
- The train traffic from the coal terminal would exceed capacity on Cowlitz County rail lines and contribute to the excess capacity already expected on rail lines around Spokane, Pasco and Vancouver.
- Without rail line improvements, the impact of the train traffic will be “significant and unavoidable” and would increase the risk of accidents by 22 percent in Cowlitz County and Washington state.
- The terminal would increase rail traffic noise along the shipping route — especially in places where trains are required to sound their horns. Those impacts would disproportionately affect low-income and minority populations.
- The project would also affect ship traffic by adding 1,680 vessel trips — a 27 percent increase — on the Columbia River. It would increase the risk of an oil spill incident on the river.
- An oil spill from a vessel or a train could have significant impacts, and coal could affect waterways if it spills out of a train or a ship. However, the risk of toxic chemical exposure from a coal spill is relatively low.
- The project would increase air pollution in the form of carbon monoxide and volatile organic compounds from ships and trains in Cowlitz County and across the state.
The public has 45 days to comment on the report, and there will be three public hearings May 24 in Longview, May 26 in Spokane and June 2 in Pasco. Officials will incorporate the comments into a final report that will be used in issuing permits for the development.
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