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Review: Coal terminal would boost pollution, safety issues

UPDATED: Fri., April 28, 2017

In this June 2, 2014, file photo, a hill of coal at the North Omaha Station, a coal-burning power station, in Omaha, Neb. (Nati Harnik / Associated Press)
In this June 2, 2014, file photo, a hill of coal at the North Omaha Station, a coal-burning power station, in Omaha, Neb. (Nati Harnik / Associated Press)
Associated Press

SEATTLE – A coal-export terminal proposed in Washington would increase cancer risk for some residents, add 2 million metric tons of global greenhouse gas emissions a year and increase the risk of rail accidents, according to an environmental study released Friday.

Millennium Bulk Terminals-Longview wants to build the facility along the Columbia River near Longview to handle up to 44 million tons of coal a year. Coal would arrive by train from Montana, Wyoming and other states to be stored and loaded on ships heading to energy-hungry markets in Asia.

The yearslong fight over the deep-water port comes as President Donald Trump, who vowed to revive the struggling coal industry, has lifted restrictions on mining coal and drilling for oil and natural gas.

Environmentalists and others have fiercely opposed the project over concerns about global warming, coal dust pollution and potential damage to fisheries on the Columbia River.

Business, some labor groups and supporters say the project would create jobs and boost the local economy. And the governor of Wyoming, the nation’s leading coal-producing state, has traveled to the Pacific Northwest to pitch the importance of coal exports to governors in Washington and Oregon.

The review by the state Department of Ecology and Cowlitz County found that the project, which could increase U.S. exports of coal by 40 percent, would have a number of harmful effects locally and beyond the facility.

The environmental impact statement analyzed potential harm to fish habitat, wetlands, water quality, local communities and more. Of 23 environmental issues, 19 would face negative effects, and some could not be offset or reduced, officials said.

“All of those issues are concerning, but especially the impact to people’s health is problematic,” ecology department director Maia Bellon said in an interview.

In a statement, Millennium CEO Bill Chapman said, “We have carefully designed the project to protect air and water quality, fish and wildlife, groundwater and people in accordance with regulatory requirements.”

Agencies will use the review to decide more than 20 permits needed before the coal terminal can be built.

The review found pollution from coal dust from trains would not be major because emissions levels would be below state and federal standards.

But pollution from locomotives would increase the cancer risk for one low-income neighborhood. Residents would also severe 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. The increased rail traffic “would increase the potential for train accidents,” the review said.

The project would result in a net annual increase of nearly 2 million metric tons of climate-warming greenhouse gases. Regulators called on developers to offset that pollution by buying carbon credits or investing in renewable energy projects.

Critics said the request oversteps state law and would set a bad precedent. Kris Johnson, president of the Association of Washington Business, said state law was designed to offset effects near a project’s site and within the state – not globally.

The ecology department defended the analysis, saying Washington law requires it to look at worldwide effects of projects originating in the state.

“For us to do a thorough review that we’ve done here is exactly what the law expects of us,” Bellon said.

Jan Hasselman, an attorney with Earthjustice representing groups opposed to the coal terminal, said the findings mean that the state and county should deny the project permits. “Any other outcome would be scientifically and legally unsupported,” he said.

The Army Corps of Engineers is expected to release its own review later this year.

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