A joint federal and state study of the impacts of a proposed coal terminal on the Puget Sound will extend beyond the Bellingham area where it would be built and include communities like Spokane that will experience a sharp increase in traffic by coal trains.
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The state Department of Ecology and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announced today the scope of the environmental impact statement for the proposed Cherry Point terminal, saying the state will require an examination of a wide range of possible effects. Along with an assessment of how the project would affect human health in the Whatcom County area, the state and county will also require "an assessment of how the project would affect human health in Washington."
It will also require "a detailed assessment of rail transportation on other representative communities in Washington".
One such community is Spokane, which expects to see an increase in coal trains coming from mines in Wyoming on their way to Bellingham. That could be between 8 and 28 extra trains headed to Cherry Point, and as many as 60 if all new ports proposed for the Northwest are built.
Josh Baldi of the Ecology Department said today the agency will study what it considers representative communities of various sizes and rail configurations and create an index of effects that can be applied to other cities and towns along the rail lines. It has not chosen those representative communities, other than Ferndale and Bellingham which are close to the proposed terminal and part of a Whatcom County study; nor does it have an estimate yet on how many communities will be in the study.
Cities cannot volunteer to be part of the study, he added.
It state also wants an evaluation of the greenhouse gas emissions of the coal being burned where it is being shipped. The port is being built to take advantage of the growing market for coal in China's power plants. Environmental critics say that will increase pollution and exacerbate global warming; supporters of the project counter that China will burn coal regardless of whether these ports are built, and American coal is less polluting than the softer coal the Chinese now burn. If the coal isn't shipped out of Washington ports, it will be shipped out of expanded ports in British Columbia, they add.