Comment on Oil Movement Reports, Coal Mine Expansion, & Dakota Access Pipeline


October 15: Oregon Coal Plant Closure

On October 15, Portland General Electric (PGE) shut down the 40-year-old Boardman Generating Station in eastern Oregon, the only, coal-fired, power plant in the state and one of three in the four-state Northwest [1].  In 2009, Columbia Riverkeeper, Friends of the Columbia Gorge, Sierra Club, and other green groups filed a lawsuit that forced PGE to permanently close the Boardman facility by the end of 2020.  Boardman stood as one of four destinations for the average three daily, Powder River Basin, unit coal trains that traverse and pollute north Idaho, besides the TransAlta coal plant in Centralia, Washington, the Customs District of Seattle, Washington (the largest, U.S. West Coast, and fifth-biggest, American, coal export center), and Westshore Terminals coal export facilities in Delta, west of Vancouver, British Columbia [2-4].  As Washington’s third-largest electricity generator, Centralia’s two coal burners will each retire in 2020 and 2025, with energy offset by natural gas or renewable resources [3].  Two of four units of the coal power plant in Colstrip, eastern Montana, owned by several utility companies, remain the last, uncertain source of coal-fired electricity in the Northwest [5].

November 1: Washington Oil Train & Pipeline Reports

The Washington Department of Ecology (DOE) is proactively inviting tribes, citizens, organizations, and agencies to participate in public hearings and a comment period on its rulemaking and proposed, draft revisions of Chapter 173-185 WAC, Oil Movement by Rail and Pipeline Notification, the Washington law that requires weekly, facility and quarterly, state reports on crude oil transportation [6].  The third and last of three webinars on this rulemaking occurred on October 20.  DOE offered opportunities to view a brief, basic presentation, ask questions afterwards, and give testimony, through an hour-long, online meeting that participants could join from a computer, tablet, or smartphone, or toll-free by phone.

WIRT activists attended and appreciate and support expansion of this Washington rule, to include receiving facility reporting of type and vapor pressure of crude oil-by-rail and type and gravity of pipeline oil.  But we recommend: 1) disclosure of ALL unit hydrocarbon trains traversing the state to receiving destinations outside Washington, including possible liquefied natural gas and petroleum liquids, 2) quarterly instead of current, biannual (twice yearly) reporting of pipeline oil volumes and descriptions, 3) required, not optional, updating of advance reports by facilities on actually received, oil-by-rail shipments, and 4) increased data to local, emergency planning groups and better notices to emergency personnel, in advance of oil and other hazardous materials trains crossing Washington, which, although not covered by this law, north Idaho first responders say they are not receiving.

Please express your interests and concerns in these important decisions that impact the health, safety, and lives of north Idaho trackside communities!  See the linked DOE announcement for further information about webinar agendas, proposed rule changes, and instructions for providing written comments by 11:59 pm on November 1 [6].  Contact Kim Morley of DOE (kim.morley@ecy.wa.gov, kmor461@ecy.wa.gov, 360-701-2398) with your questions about this rulemaking.

November 3 & Sooner or Later: Vote & Resist a Coup

(Next WIRT newsletter this week)

November 10 & 23: Montana Coal Mine Expansion

In July 2020, Talen Energy and Puget Sound Energy, owners of Montana’s largest, coal-fired, power plant at Colstrip, 120 miles east of Billings, started dismantling and demolishing its Unit 1 and 2 cooling towers built in the 1970s [7].  As part of the 2016 settlement of an air pollution lawsuit between Colstrip’s six owners and the Sierra Club and Montana Environmental Information Center (MEIC), the partial facility closure of the reportedly uneconomical units began in January 2020, two years before the 2022 settlement deadline.  “Units 3 and 4 remain in operation, though four of the power plant’s owners face coal power bans in Washington and Oregon, beginning in 2025.  Puget Sound Energy has put its share of Unit 4 for sale.  Fellow owners PacifiCorp and Avista Corporation have agreed to limit spending on the units in the next three years” [7].

Nonetheless, recently bankrupt Westmoreland Mining has proposed adding 9,108 acres to its 25,000-acre, Rosebud, surface, coal mine complex in the northern Powder River Basin, located near the Northern Cheyenne Indian Reservation and adjacent to the 2,100-megawatt Colstrip power station, one of the largest, greenhouse gas polluters in the nation [8-12].  Combined with another massive expansion that the Montana Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) approved last year, the AM5 project would increase the size of the mine by 65 percent, quickly dwarfing all previous mine expansions.

By adding up to 147 million tons of coal to the ten to thirteen million tons per year currently produced by the Rosebud Mine — six million tons of it annually incinerated in the Colstrip plant specifically designed to burn Rosebud coal — the proposal would supply Colstrip with coal beyond 2050.  The total, resulting 294 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions would “deepen the climate crisis and cause harm to fish, wildlife, and agriculture, by allowing the mine to further pollute waterways already contaminated by the mine and the Colstrip power plant” [9].

Montana DEQ is requesting public comments by November 23 and hosting an online, public meeting and hearing, to provide information on the draft environmental impact statement (EIS) and accept public testimony, via Zoom on Tuesday, November 10, from 5 to 7 pm PST [10, 11].  For the sake of a healthy and safe, Northwest future, tell DEQ to reject this largest, coal mine expansion in modern, Montana history, by reading MEIC’s fact sheet about the proposal and its impacts [12], signing the accompanying petition [9], registering for the event [11], and/or sending your comments to rosebud-mine-area-b-eis@eroresources.com, with the subject line “Attn: Rosebud Mine Area B AM5 EIS” [10].

November 26: Comment Against Dakota Access Pipeline

Amid years-long lawsuits, the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and its Earthjustice attorney representatives have convinced federal courts to not only order the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to conduct a full environmental impact statement (EIS), but to also force the Dakota Access Pipeline’s (DAPL) operator, Energy Transfer, to shut down DAPL at its crossing under dammed Lake Oahe of the Missouri River, for and during this review [13].  “DAPL and Energy Transfer are fighting a legal battle, after a judge vacated the permit for the pipeline in July, and then a U.S. appeals court ruled that Dakota Access can continue to operate, while the court considers whether the pipeline should be shut down, as ordered by a lower court’s ruling.  The pipeline will continue operating at least until the end of 2020, as December 2020 is the earliest time the court will be able to make a decision, after reviewing all relevant documentation” [14].  As Energy Transfer instead pushes for DAPL expansion, the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe received notification of commenced construction of a new pump station that would accommodate more Bakken oil flow, despite active and ongoing litigation against DAPL operation and expansion [15].  Impacted tribes are asking for the continued support and resistance of all water and Earth protectors and the public, by participating in public hearings, commenting via email and petition, and voicing concerns and disapproval of the pipeline.

As the lead federal agency, the Corps has started the first, scoping phase for a draft and final EIS, with hearings and a comment period that invite, gather, and consider input from the public, state and local agencies, and tribes, about which impacts the EIS should include and study.  The scoping process is intended “to evaluate the range of actions, alternatives, and impacts of the proposed project,…to assist in identifying the scope of potentially affected, environmental, social, and economic issues relevant to the potential grant of an easement, and determining if there are reasonable alternatives to be considered in the EIS” [16].  On October 15 and 16, the Omaha District of the Corps conducted and recorded virtual, public meetings through a livestreamed, facebook event and video [17].

With a modifiable comment form composed and delivered by Earthjustice, and/or your remarks sent directly to the Corps, for inclusion in the formal record by November 26, please urge the agency to work with the tribe, to ensure the EIS is comprehensive and respects the tribe’s sovereignty, as mandated by the still unimplemented DAPL closure decision [18].  Throughout the EIS process, ask the Corps to “1) Engage the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe as equal partners, 2) Respect and center the treaty rights of the tribe, 3) Look for alternative pipeline routes that do not threaten the tribe, 4) Consider how the oil flowing through DAPL negatively impacts communities while it’s extracted and how it warms the climate when consumed, [and] 5) Subject safety claims to rigorous, truly independent, third-party scrutiny” [18].  Visit the Corps website for further information, and write to the Corps via mail to Omaha or email message to NWO-DAPL-EIS@usace.army.mil, with the subject line “Scoping Comments, Dakota Access Pipeline Crossing,” and/or call and leave voicemail at 402-995-2036 [13].  Mni Wiconi!

Unfortunately on October 14, two days after Indigenous Peoples Day, the Illinois Commerce Commission approved a plan for DAPL to add pumping stations “to double its capacity from 570,000 barrels per day (bpd) to 1.1 million bpd [of Bakken crude oil], thus becoming the last state along the pipeline’s route to give its consent to the expansion” [14].  All five commissioners voted to unanimously approve this oil spill disaster project, despite the recent, shutdown ruling and “controversy since its inception and initial start-up in 2017…[through] North Dakota, South Dakota, Iowa, and Illinois” [14].  Seen as a win for the oil industry and North Dakota oil producers, pipeline expansion is viewed as inappropriate and unnecessary by tribes and environmentalists who still oppose DAPL operation, especially with decreased oil demand during the coronavirus pandemic.

Indigenous land defenders and responsible journalists continue their efforts to defeat DAPL and the Keystone XL pipeline.  Lakota People’s Law Project (LPLP) and VICE News worked in conjunction with college students, to compile and release archived footage and materials, through the production of a powerful, new video effectively telling the story of the unified stand to protect Standing Rock’s water [19].  In the DAPL Protests edition of the VICE News I Was There series, LPLP lead counsel Chase Iron Eyes shares insights on “what really happened at Standing Rock,” so viewers can “gain a fuller picture of the timeline and meaning of our movement and how it fits into the present, cultural moment…This year has shown us so clearly that we must take our vigilance to new levels, to protect one another.  We have to fight on multiple fronts and make sure that the truth always comes to light” [19].

[1] PGE Shuts Down Boardman, Only Coal Power Plant in Oregon, for Good, October 15, 2020 Portland Business Journal

[2] Centralia, October 15, 2020 TransAlta

[3] Washington State Profile and Energy Estimates: Analysis, October 15, 2020 U.S. Energy Information Administration

[4] Westshore Terminals, October 15, 2020 Westshore Terminals

[5] Colstrip Steam Plant, October 15, 2020 Global Energy Monitor

[6] Chapter 173-185 WAC, October 19, 2020 Washington Department of Ecology

[7] Colstrip Coal-Fired Power Plant Starts Partial Demolition, August 5, 2020 Associated Press/Great Falls Tribune

[8] Westmoreland Rosebud Mining LLC – Montana, October 26, 2020 Westmoreland Mining

[9] Tell the DEQ to Say No to Another Giant Coal Mine Expansion, October 26, 2020 Montana Environmental Information Center

[10] Public Comment Periods: Westmoreland Rosebud Area B AM5 Draft Environmental Impact Statement, October 26, 2020 Montana Department of Environmental Quality

[11] Rosebud Mine Area B AM5 Draft EIS Virtual Public Meeting and Hearing, October 26, 2020 Montana Department of Environmental Quality

[12] Stop the Largest Coal Mine Expansion in Modern History, October 26, 2020 Montana Environmental Information Center

[13] Dakota Access Pipeline, October 17, 2020 U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Omaha District

[14] Dakota Access Oil Pipeline Clears Hurdle to Doubling Capacity, October 16, 2020 Oilprice.com

[15] Dakota Access Pipeline Update, October 13, 2020 Standing Rock Sioux Tribe

[16] DAPL Virtual Public Scoping Meeting #2, October 16, 2020 U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Omaha District

[17] Dakota Access Pipeline Public Meeting, October 16, 2020 U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Omaha District

[18] Demand a Robust Environmental Impact Statement for DAPL, October 18, 2020 Earthjustice

[19] VICE News Video: What Really Happened at Standing Rock, Featuring Chase Iron Eyes, and email message, October 11, 2020 Lakota People’s Law Project

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