A company proposing to build a shipping terminal capable of exporting up to 54 million tons of coal has failed in an effort to shortcut the environmental permitting process. The coal export company, SSA Marine, was told it couldn’t repurpose a 1997 permit originally awarded for an entirely different project and would have to apply for a new permit.
The decision deals a major setback to the coal exporter’s effort to build the terminal at Cherry Point, Washington, in northern Puget Sound. County officials received a letter opposing the coal terminal sent by Earthjustice on behalf of Climate Solutions, Sierra Club and RE Sources, explaining why a revision was impermissible and asking it to reject the permit application.
The proposed terminal is the second proposed coal export terminal in Washington State. Vancouver, British Columbia has a coal export terminal but no major coal terminals exist on the west coast of the U.S. With coal-fired power in the U.S. in retreat due to the extreme pollution they generate, coal producers are seeking new markets in China, India and other parts of Asia. Earthjustice is representing clients opposed to exporting a major polluting fuel to be burned offshore.
"The county made the right decision," said Jan Hasselman, an attorney at Earthjustice. "This is a company that has promised a full and open process, and it has promised the most rigorous environmental protections possible. Both promises rang hollow when they were trying to lock in their '97 permit."
"People need to ask about what's behind this coal export terminal," he added. “What they’ll learn is it would bring a lot of coal dust pollution here and allow export of one of earth’s most polluting fuels to be burned overseas.”
The rejection of the coal terminal permit application means the coal company will have to start the permitting process all over again. This will provide greater public scrutiny, and the need to comply with tough environmental standards including updated state law protecting Puget Sound’s shorelines.
"Mining, transporting and burning coal fouls our air, pollutes our water, sickens our children and destroys the environment," said Cesia Kearns, of the Sierra Club's Coal Free Northwest campaign. "This is a dangerous proposal and we are not going to let the company argue its way out of essential environmental review."