It’s on: Millennium to appeal state move to reject coal exports

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A company that wants to build and operate a large terminal to export coal from the western U.S. to Asia by way of Pasco was denied a key permit by Washington state on Tuesday because of environmental concerns.

Millennium Bulk Terminals said Tuesday it will appeal a decision by the Department of Ecology to reject the water quality permit it needs to build the proposed facility near the city of Longview.

The state agency said the export terminal would have caused “significant and unavoidable harm” to the environment. The department cited effects to air quality, noise pollution and tribal resources, among others.

“There are simply too many unavoidable and negative environmental effects for the project to move forward,” Ecology Director Maia Bellon said in a statement.

Millennium Bulk Terminals has long hoped to build a facility along the Columbia River to handle up to 44 million tons of coal a year. Burlington Northern Santa Fe expected to carry the coal from Montana, Wyoming and other states, which would be loaded onto ships headed to Asia. Japan, hungry for new fuel sources after the Fukushima disaster in2 011 shut off some nuclear power, would be a major customer.

Bill Chapman, president and CEO of Millennium Bulk Terminals-Longview, accused the state agency of acting in bad faith in a statement posted to the company’s web site.

“Ecology appears to have intentionally disregarded decades of law defining the Clean Water Act to reject the water quality certification requested for Millennium’s project. Multiple recent decisions by the agency seem biased against the Longview community, and particularly blind to the need for employment opportunities in Cowlitz County,” he said.

Though based in Longview, Millennium’s coal export project is being closely watched in the Tri-Cities, where BNSF spent $26 million in 2015 to construct a “re-spray” facility to help control coal dust at its busy Pasco hump yard, anticipating an increase in coal-by-rail traffic. BNSF employs about 250 in Pasco.

The Pasco Chamber of Commerce endorsed the terminal project, as did he Port of Pasco Commission, the Washington Farm Bureau and the Benton and Franklin county commissions.

Locally and statewide, the Millennium project generated plenty of controversy. Supporters call it an important job creator while opponents voice concerns about global warming, coal dust pollution and potential damage to fisheries on the river. Reaction on Tuesday was predictably mixed..

“The state did the right thing today, standing up for clean water, public health and the Pacific Northwest’s iconic endangered salmon runs,” Power Past Coal co-director Jasmine Zimmer-Stucky said in a statement.

Businesses, some labor groups and other supporters say the project would create jobs, add tax revenue and boost the local economy. The governor of Wyoming, the nation’s leading coal-producing state, previously traveled to the Pacific Northwest to pitch the importance of coal exports to the governors of Washington and Oregon.

Tribal leaders weighed in as well, with the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Reservation asking officials to reject the terminal, and Montana’s Crow Tribe, which mines coal, saying it supported it “100 percent.”

Tuesday, the pro-terminal Keep Washington Competitive Coalition released statements from business, trade and labor leaders denouncing the decision, saying it will dissuade business from choosing Washington.

“The state has effectively negated any hope of major infrastructure projects along the Columbia River and other parts of Washington state,” said Lee Newgent, executive secretary of the Washington State Building & Construction Trades Council. “(T)hat is a very troubling testament to the state’s lack of interest in creating family wage jobs in communities outside of King County.”

An environmental review released in April by Washington’s ecology department and Cowlitz County analyzed potential harm to fish habitat, wetlands, water quality, local communities and more. Of 23 environmental areas, 19 would face harmful effects, and some could not be offset or reduced, officials said at the time.

The review found that coal dust pollution from trains would not be major because emissions levels would be below state and federal standards, but pollution from locomotives would raise the cancer risk for one low-income neighborhood.

Residents also would see more noise and traffic delays at rail crossings without a quiet zone or other measures, the study said. At full capacity, the project would add 16 more trains through the area and increase the number of ships by 1,680 a year.

Gov. Jay Inslee said he was confident that state ecology officials “based their decision on sound science and in accordance with the law.”

“It’s absolutely critical that all projects – particularly of this scale – undergo an objective and extensive review that ensures they are able to meet the standards necessary for protecting our land, air and water,” he said in an emailed statement.

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