Over a Quarter of a Million Public Comments Against Largest Coal Export Terminal in North America

Public comment period ends as community concerns grow over fossil fuel transport given recent oil train derailment on Columbia River


Jan Hasselman, Staff Attorney, Earthjustice, (206) 343-7340, ext. 1025

Residents traveling up from Longview, WA, delivered public comments to the Washington Dept. of Ecology at the end of the 45 day public comment process. The agency should receive over 257,000 comments calling on the Dept. of Ecology and Cowlitz County to reject the proposed coal export terminal in Longview, WA.

Longview is located along the Columbia River.

“Longview is a point on the map, yet this devastation starts far away and goes far away and covers the whole world,” stated Rev. Kathleen Patton, Longview resident, while standing outside of the Dept. of Ecology office in Lacey, WA. “We wouldn’t have the courage to speak without all of this wonderful community from all over speaking out against coal and impacts on our communities and the climate.”

Washington State’s Department of Ecology, Cowlitz County and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers are considering the proposal by Millennium Bulk Logistics to build a 44 million ton coal export terminal in Longview. The Dept. of Ecology and the county recently released their draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS). The project would sit in close proximity to the Columbia River, the second largest river in North America and one that both Oregon and Washington rely on for commerce, recreation and tourism. It would also mean unprecedented impacts, from local to global. The U.S. Army Corps will release their draft EIS in 2016.

The residents delivered the comments a little over a week after an oil train derailed in Mosier, OR, reminding the public and officials the dangers of transporting fossil fuels through communities.   Adding the 16 coal trains per day just for Longview, WA to the projected 22 oil train trips for the current and proposed oil transport terminals would mean wait times for up to over an hour in any rail-line communities (rural and urban) with at-grade crossings.

“The DEIS demonstrates that this project, if approved, would lead to mile-long uncovered coal trains passing through the City of Portland en route to Longview, Washington. The DEIS does not consider potential impacts to Portland and the State of Oregon. [the oil train derailment] serves as a stark reminder of the potential for catastrophe when coal and other fossil fuels are transported through the City of Portland,” stated the municipality in its written comment to the agencies.

Many tribes, municipalities, experts and organizations submitted technical comments as part of the process.

The Department of Ecology’s draft Environmental Impact Statement reports that if built, the terminal would significantly increase train traffic to up 16 coal trains per day. Until a few years ago, BNSF documented on its own website that as much as 500 pounds of coal dust can escape each rail car.

A recent UW health-study confirmed that coal trains release twice as much diesel pollution as freight trains, as they are the longest and heaviest type of train on the rails, so all along the rail-route communities living closer to the tracks would experience increased pollution as well as increased rail congestion. Comments on Longview DEIS submitted by Daniel Jaffe, Professor of Atmospheric Chemistry at the University of Washington Bothell cited several deficiencies in the studies coal dust analysis.

  1. The EIS needs to clearly indicate that coal dust includes inhalable PM2.5;
  2. The EIS needs to address what are the causes for known failure in the surfactant coating;
  3. The EIS fails to describe acceptable limits of human health impacts of coal dust;
  4. The coal dust study was likely influenced by an inherent bias due to the fact that the shipper knew the date, time and location of the tests;
  5. The study underestimates coal dust by a factor of four.

“Coal dust from existing coal train traffic continues to pollute the Columbia River Gorge,” said Michael Lang, conservation Director for Friends of the Columbia Gorge. “According to Dr. Dan Jaffe’s analysis and ongoing field monitoring by Friends of the Columbia Gorge, coal transport through the Columbia Gorge by the Millennium coal terminal project would cause significant harm to human health and the environment.”

If built, the agencies predict the project would increase greenhouse gas emissions with at least 37.6 million metric tons of carbon dioxide, the equivalent at least five or more coal fired power plants. Many of the public comments addressed the overall climate impacts.

“Even more significantly, although the DEIS significantly understates the project’s potential impact on greenhouse gas (“GHG”) emissions, it confirms that MBT would be among the state’s worst sources of carbon pollution, and would trigger changes in global coal markets that result in substantial increases in coal consumption,” stated the Power Past Coal coalition’s lead attorney from Earthjustice Jan Hasselman, in the coalition’s technical comments regarding the DEIS. “The DEIS reveals many significant impacts and risks that, individually and collectively, provide a basis for the Co-leads to deny the project.”

“When we lose our salmon, we lose the tourism and recreation economy, and we lose a healthy local sustainable food source.” said Bob Rees, Executive Director of the Northwest Steelheaders Association at the kick-off hearing in Longview where he also held up several salmon caught that day on the Columbia River. “We know climate change is driving the diving salmon population, and there’s no quicker way we can make a difference than ending our addiction to coal. Anglers oppose coal because it directly pollutes our waters with every train that rolls through the Gorge and every smokestack it lights up overseas.”

Southwest Washington would also see significant impacts to the Columbia River—the second largest river in North America. Over 1500 residents from Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Montana attended three public hearings over the last several weeks, with an overwhelming majority of the attendees demonstrated their opposition by wearing red, creating a “sea of red” at the hearings.

Agencies have denied permits for two others, notably last week the Dept. of Natural Resources denied a needed aquatic lands lease for the proposed terminal at Cherry Point on the heels of the U.S. Army Corps upholding the Lummi Tribe’s treaty rights and denying a needed key federal permit for the 48 million ton coal terminal. While there are two other proposals to export coal off the West coast, one for up to eight million tons in British Columbia and another for up to eight million tons out of Oakland, CA, this is the last big proposal left in the Northwest and is the largest by far and the last one in Washington State.

Millennium originally submitted permits in 2010 for a much smaller terminal, but news outlets revealed they failed to disclose the scope of their plans for the project to the community in the first round of permitting and had to pull their original permits

Longview in Cowlitz County, WA, the proposed site of the coal export terminal (Alex Butterfield / CC BY 3.0)

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