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Washington State Makes Nonsensical Ruling On Coal Export Impact Study

On July 31, a joint press release was issued by Whatcom (WA) County, the Washington State Department of Ecology, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announcing the scope of the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for a proposed coal export terminal and rail spur at Cherry Point. The proposed study opens the door for state and federal bureaucrats to decide that global warming impacts, local atmospheric conditions in foreign countries and other non-local impacts can be considered in the approval process. The scope of this EIS is unprecedented and potentially beyond the scope of what is permissible under current law. It is yet another indication that the professional Left has waged war on energy, and will use any means necessary to stop the use of fossil fuels.

The statement starts off bad, and only gets worse:

An environmental review of proposed bulk cargo and railroad spur projects at Cherry Point in Whatcom County will closely study their direct effects at the site and evaluate a broad range of indirect and cumulative impacts likely to occur within and beyond Washington.

The ... lead agencies have determined that the preliminary scope of the project impacts will be examined fully under all applicable environmental elements which include earth, air, water, plants and animals, energy and natural resources, environmental health, land and shoreline use, transportation, and public services and utilities.

Whatcom County and Ecology will require:

  • A detailed assessment of rail transportation impacts in Whatcom County near the project site, specifically including Bellingham and Ferndale.
  • An assessment of how the project would affect human health, including impacts from related rail and vessel transportation in Whatcom County.
  • An evaluation of greenhouse gas emissions from terminal operations, and rail and vessel traffic.

In addition, Ecology will require:

  • A detailed assessment of rail transportation on other representative communities in Washington and a general analysis of out-of-state rail impacts.
  • An assessment of how the project would affect human health in Washington.
  • A general assessment of cargo-ship impacts beyond Washington waters.
  • An evaluation and disclosure of greenhouse gas emissions of end-use coal combustion.

The combined EIS will address all of the co-lead agencies’ scoping requirements. The co-lead agencies could revise the scope for the draft EIS in response to new findings or other information as development of the draft EIS moves forward. The co-leads will seek public comment on a draft of the EIS, which they expect will take about two years to prepare. Then they will prepare a joint final EIS.

Trade groups were quick to respond. Lauri Hennessey of the Alliance for Northwest Jobs & Exports said,

Today’s announcement represents an unprecedented treatment of rail and exports in Washington state and could have far-reaching repercussions that should concern anyone who cares about trade – of all kinds of products. This decision has the potential to alter the Northwest’s long and historic commitment to expanding trade, which today supports 4 in every 10 jobs in Washington state.

The Alliance went on to say,

With this announcement, 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.

Several other trade groups agreed, saying that this sets an onerous and unprecedented burden on all sorts of industries that wish to expand in Washington. Even the Washington Farm Bureau weighed in:

What’s being requested by the Department of Ecology moves us into uncharted territory – reviews like this associated with port terminal developments have never been proposed anywhere in the country. It could have a chilling effect on Eastern Washington and agriculture communities that use our state’s rail system and port facilities to move our products to market.

It's becoming more and more clear that influences outside the scope of local environmental concerns are driving the agenda in the Pacific Northwest. What is less clear is whether this region is open for business, or whether our elected officials are shunning economic development.