Last, Largest Coal Port DEIS Hearings

On Thursday, April 29, 2016, as required by the Washington State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA), the Washington Department of Ecology and Cowlitz County, Washington released a draft environmental impact statement (EIS) on the huge Millennium Bulk Terminals coal export terminal proposed for Longview, Washington [1, 2]. Along with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which is preparing a separate federal draft EIS, the agencies are studying the potential environmental and social impacts and evaluating the risks of this project [3].  They will review and consider all concerned citizen input after the 45-day comment period ends on June 13, while performing further analyses for the final EIS.  Once this document emerges, terminal owners would begin application processes for local, state, and federal permits.

Millennium proponent Lighthouse Resources (formerly Ambre Energy) owns 62 percent of the project; 38 percent owner Arch Coal has filed for bankruptcy. Their potentially largest such facility in North America, built and operated on the site of the former Reynolds Aluminum smelter, could annually transfer and stockpile 44 million metric tons of Powder River Basin coal, strip-mined in Montana and Wyoming, between unit coal trains and ships bound for Asia.  Besides eight empty, returning trains daily, the terminal would impose on trackside communities eight fully loaded, additional coal trains per day.

This last remaining Northwest coal export project of an original six proposals should concern Idahoans, who live among relatively clean air and water, abundant wildlife, and scenic beauty, just as much as Washington citizens [4]. Coal transport through Sandpoint and surrounding north Idaho communities, 400-plus miles away, directly pollutes, threatens, and impacts regional public and environmental health and safety and economic vitality, all for private profit.  Each coal train engine spews carcinogenic diesel fumes, and its 110 open rail cars together shed 55,000 pounds of coal dust from mine to port, laden with arsenic, lead, mercury, nickel, tin, and other heavy metals.  Health experts link exposure to diesel exhaust and coal dust with decreased lung capacity and exacerbated asthma, bronchitis, emphysema, pneumonia, lung cancer, and heart disease.  Increased, slow-moving coal traffic can also obstruct and delay vehicles at rail crossings, extend the travel times of emergency responders, and block access to hospitals, schools, businesses, and neighborhoods.  Heavy coal trains damage rails with their pressure and clog the pores of gravel under tracks, reducing wet ballast permeability and stability and thus risking derailment of other hazardous and explosive freight.

Why support the significantly faltering coal industry and world markets [5, 6]? In recent months, owners of a dozen of the most productive coal mines in the Powder River Basin and country, Peabody, Arch, and Alpha Natural Resources, have filed for bankruptcy [7].  With the downturn in Wyoming coal, oil, and gas production, 2,400 dirty energy sector employees have lost jobs since January 1, most from the two largest coal companies [8].  Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway has furloughed 4,600 workers nationwide over the last several months, and Union Pacific Railroad has laid off 4,100 employees.  After 30-plus years of endlessly fighting coal projects, tribal and Montana activists have stopped the Otter Creek coal mine in the Powder River Basin, and the federal Surface Transportation Board has dismissed the permit for the Tongue River Railroad [9].  Agencies temporarily suspended EIS preparation for the Gateway Pacific Terminal at Cherry Point near Bellingham, before the Lummi Nation and supportive Northwest tribes convinced the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to reject permits for the once biggest proposed coal port in North America, in defense of their Constitutionally-protected treaty rights to fishing grounds and practices [10].  And these developments represent only the most salient of recent, historic Northwest victories over extreme energy projects.

But the Washington Department of Ecology has announced three informational open houses and public hearings on the proposed Longview coal terminal draft EIS in three cities across the state. Various organizers with the Power Past Coal and Stand Up To Oil coalitions are hosting 4 pm rallies at each location, before oral testimony restarts after 5 pm agency presentations (also at 1 pm).  Please read the draft EIS on the Department of Ecology’s website, wear red, and come prepared to speak for only two minutes and/or provide comments to a court reporter and/or in written form during the meeting.

* Tuesday, May 24, 1 to 9 pm at the Cowlitz Regional Conference Center, 1900 Seventh Avenue in Longview, Washington [11]

* Thursday, May 26, 1 to 9 pm at the Spokane Convention Center, 334 West Spokane Falls Boulevard in Spokane, Washington [12]

* Thursday, June 2, 1 to 9 pm at the TRAC Center, 6600 Burden Boulevard in Pasco, Washington [13] Continue reading