The Washington Shorelines Hearings Board reversed permits for two crude oil shipping terminals in Grays Harbor, Washington for failure to address significant public safety and environmental issues. The projects cannot go forward until full and detailed environmental reviews assess all individual and cumulative impacts, according to the final decision released late yesterday.
The Quinault Indian Nation and conservation groups argued that regulatory agencies failed to adequately evaluate the risks of oil spills from trains or marine vessels that would expose tribal fishing rights, commercial and recreational fishing and shellfishing, and the economy and environment of Grays Harbor to major harm.
The Board agreed with petitioners Quinault Indian Nation, Friends of Grays Harbor, Sierra Club, Surfrider Foundation, Grays Harbor Audubon, and Citizens for a Clean Harbor that moving hundreds of oil-laden trains and ships through Washington demands full and public environmental review.
Quote from Fawn Sharp, President, Quinault Indian Nation:
“We applaud the decision by the Shoreline Hearings Board to reverse the permit for the crude oil shipping terminals.
“Those permits should have never been issued in the first place. The shipping terminals would be a clear violation of public safety as well as treaty-protected rights. The public trust should not be jeopardized in this manner. Neither should the water nor other environmental resources upon which we all depend. Far more jobs would be lost when the inevitable spills occur than would be gained from the development of the proposed oil terminals. It is the responsibility of the Shoreline Hearings Board and all public entities to take a strong stand against these terminals and all such projects that would diminish the quality of life in our region.
“Good public policy demands that decision makers assess ultimate and cumulative impacts of their decisions and mitigate any potential harm to the public or tribal interest before they commit to an irreversible course of action.
“The history of oil spills provides ample, devastating evidence that there are no reasonable conditions under which these proposed terminal projects should proceed.”
Westway Terminal Company and Imperium Terminal Services had each proposed projects that would ship tens of millions of barrels of crude oil through Grays Harbor each year. Daily trains more than a mile long would bring crude oil from North Dakota or tar sands crude oil from Alberta, Canada along the Chehalis River and into the port, where it would be stored in huge shoreline tanks. The crude would then be pumped onto oil tankers and barges, increasing at least four-fold the large vessel traffic in and out of the harbor.
“There should be a statewide moratorium on crude-by-rail projects,” said Kristen Boyles, an attorney with Earthjustice representing the Quinault Indian Nation. “A frantic dash to permit is immoral when we’re talking millions of gallons of combustible oil, risks of devastating crude oil spills in rivers and the ocean, harm to traditional fishing economies, and irreplaceable natural resources.”
- The Board first determined that there was undisputed evidence of a third proposed crude oil terminal in Grays Harbor that must be considered in the permitting decisions. This unexamined third project, proposed by U.S. Development, would add 18 million more barrels of crude oil transit per year to Grays Harbor.
- The Board also found that Ecology and Hoquiam violated the state environmental review law (SEPA) by waiting until after permitting to analyze the proposed additional rail and vessel transits. “To wait until after the SEPA threshold determination is made, and the [permit] is issued, to obtain information that identifies whether potential impacts from vessel and train increases will be significant and whether mitigation is necessary, does not comply” with the law.” Order at 28.
- The Board expressed concern at the absence of information supporting the permits. “While the Co-leads may have reached the conclusion that there was not likely to be more than a moderate environmental impact from 520 additional vessel transits per year in Grays Harbor, and 973 unit trains per year to the Port of Grays Harbor, they did not share the basis for that conclusion in any of the SEPA documents.” Order at 31.
- The Board also stated that the agencies could not simply rely without on other laws to mitigate risks and damages. “[T]he Board encourages the Co-leads to identify potential impacts and then analyze how existing laws will mitigate for those impacts.” Order at 36.
- Although the Board did not decide other issues raised in the case, the Board went out of its way to identify “troubling questions of the adequacy of the analysis done regarding the potential for individual and cumulative impacts from oil spills, seismic events, greenhouse gas emissions, and impacts to cultural resources.” Order at 33. Of particular concern to the Quinault, the Board discussed the failure the ensure that the projects would not harm historic or cultural resources. The Board also stressed the importance of assessing the types of crude oil that would be at risk of being spilled. “[C]ertainly an impact with the potential to ‘wipe out generation(s) of a livelihood of work they [the shellfish folks or agricultural families, or tribes and local communities] have enjoyed and are skilled to do’ should be explicitly addressed.” Order at 34-35.
The Board’s decision comes as the risks of crude-by-rail oil shipments has come into public focus. In July, a crude-by-rail train exploded and leveled a portion of a small Quebec town, tragically killing almost 50 people. That horrific scene replayed last week, as a similar crude oil train derailed and exploded in Alabama, with fortunately no loss of life. The Grays Harbor projects are the first of almost ten projects slated for Washington’s coast that have been challenged; the enormous Tesoro-Savage proposal on the Columbia River is currently undergoing permitting review.
A copy of the Board’s decision is at http://earthjustice.org/documents/legal-document/pdf/crude-by-rail-final-decision.