The coal industry’s plan to move millions of tons of coal through Pacific Northwest (PNW) terminals to China and other Asian markets received a body blow when Washington regulators said environmental impact reviews must consider the worldwide impact of burning the export coal in China.
One of the major battles surrounding the various proposals has centered on the “scope” of the environmental review process.
That question was answered on July 31 when the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Washington State Department of Ecology, and Whatcom County jointly announced the scope of their joint Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for a proposed coal export terminal at Cherry Point, in northwest Washington State. If built, it would be the largest coal export terminal in North America, exporting up to 48 million metric tons of coal per year to Asia. The proponents of the terminal include Peabody Energy, SSA Marine, and Goldman Sachs.
In a major victory for opponents of the export proposals, the scope of the environmental review will be broad, and not limited to the PNW region as pushed by coal industry proponents.
The state’s environmental review will include: human health impacts from coal dust around the Cherry Point terminal and in communities along the entire rail line, marine traffic impacts, rail traffic impacts, greenhouse gas emissions from burning the exported coal in Asia, and cumulative impacts from the second proposed terminal in the state, the Millennium Bulk Terminal in Longview, WA.
This is precedent-setting stuff—especially the part about impacts of GHG emissions from burning the exported coal in Asia. It raises the bar on passing environmental muster to a new, much more difficult, and perhaps impossible, level for export terminal supporters.
“Washington state has set a new precedent that could potentially interfere with international commerce laws protecting rail and trade and discourage new business investment in the state,” was the response in a statement issued by the Alliance for Northwest Jobs & Exports, a business group.
“This scope is a reflection of Northwest values – the depth and breadth of the scope is absolutely on target and appropriate given the impacts this project would have on our way of life,” said Cesia Kearns, campaign director for the Power Past Coal campaign, a coalition of hundreds of businesses, health experts, community organizations and environmental and faith groups.
Cherry Point is one of three remaining coal export proposals in Washington and Oregon; three other proposals were scrapped over the past year. If all three terminals are built, it would mean up to 100 million metric tons of coal exported every year, and up to 40 trains per day traveling through many rail-line communities such as Missoula, Montana and Spokane, Washington.
Is the PNW coal export plan falling apart? The EIS scoping decision could be a deadly nail in its coffin, but there is still a long way to go, three remaining terminal proposals, a desperate and well-heeled coal industry, and a lengthy review process ahead.
But here’s an interesting tidbit about the Cherry Point proposal: last month Goldman Sachs, a Cherry Point proponent, said coal export terminals are a bad investment. Oops!
[Image credit: Coal Trains by Paul K. Anderson via Power Past Coal]