State should study wider impacts of coal transportation since U.S. won't

COURTESY TO THE BELLINGHAM HERALDJuly 24, 2013 

The Army Corps of Engineers recently announced that its review of the proposed Gateway Pacific Terminal will be limited to the terminal sites. Yet, the Corps was selected to represent the federal government's interests and specifically to ensure that the process complies with the National Environmental Policy Act for the terminals' environmental impact studies.

The first step of environmental studies for the Gateway Pacific Terminal, the public comment period, recently concluded. Among the exceptionally large volume of comments (some 125,000) submitted by the public and various organizations were letters from six federal agencies with recommendations that the environmental impact study include the broader potential impacts of Gateway Pacific Terminal. These include the cumulative impacts of all the proposed Pacific Coast terminals.

Here is a partial summary of the agencies' comments:

Environmental Protection Agency: The environmental impact study should include: study of impacts along the full rail route to the terminal, including potential increases in fugitive coal dust and diesel emissions that would accompany the additional rail traffic and the potential related human health impacts; the potential for air and water quality impacts in the United States from the Asian combustion of coal; and the lifecycle greenhouse gas effects. The environmental impact study should study these cumulative effects in the context of other proposed export terminals as well as for the Gateway Pacific Terminal project.

U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development: Concerned about the noise effect of increased rail traffic of the entire route to the terminal, the agency asked the report study cumulative effects of all proposed terminals with regards to train noise.

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration: Included in its recommendations for study were the effects of transportation of terminal products (coal and other bulk products) from source to customers (rail and marine transport) and carbon emissions of combusted coal. Marine traffic impacts from the terminal to the end of the U.S. Exclusive Economic Zone should also be included in the study.

U.S. Forest Service: Concerned with coal train traffic through National Forest Service lands these impacts were listed for study: new fire starts, air quality impacts, potential additions of invasive species and noise.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service: Recommended the report study effects to water quality associated with coal dust during train and ship transport and to study the cumulative effects of all the proposed coal terminals.

National Park Service: Stated its concern about potential cumulative impacts of increased rail traffic to the northern Rocky Mountains and the Pacific northwest from rail shipments from the Powder River Basin. Other concerns were the terminal operation and marine shipments and the resulting pollutants from Asian power plants.

Even our public agencies believe these topics deserve to be studied. The public has a right to know what the "reasonably foreseeable consequences" are and whether they can be mitigated -- from the point of view of either a coal terminal supporter or anti-coal perspective. Terminal supporters will want to know if proper mitigations will be included so that the future terminals will be "safe and use the best modern technologies" as claimed by the developers. They will want to know that the terminals will be permitted under the full authority law without the taint of political favor.

Similarly, opponents of the terminals will want actual studies and a true and honest appraisal of the impacts and costs. They want real concerns addressed and hearsay and fear-mongering rumors eliminated.

How can the Army Corps of Engineers ignore both the letter of the National Environmental Policy Act law, its implementation guidance from the Council of Environmental Quality, and recommendations from the federal agency experts who have asked for a broad and cumulative approach to the Gateway Pacific Terminal environmental impact study?

The League of Woman Voters of Bellingham Whatcom County urges Gov. Inslee to direct the state agencies to study these impacts under our own State Environmental Protection Act. We also strongly believe the Army Corps of Engineers should heed the Council of Environmental Quality guidelines and follow suit.

ABOUT THE AUTHORS

Jill Bernstein and Annette Holcomb are co-presidents of the League of Women Voters of Bellingham/Whatcom County.

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