Four months after it rejected a permit for a coal export terminal at Cherry Point, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers gave a more favorable review to a similar proposal in Longview, Washington.
The Corps released a draft environmental impact statement for the Millennium Bulk Terminal port in Longview on Friday, Sept. 30. The project would ship coal from Montana and Wyoming out of a port on the Columbia River.
In May, the Corps rejected a permit request by a different company, SSA Marine, that wanted to build an even larger bulk export terminal at Cherry Point that would be the largest coal export terminal in North America. Federal officials argued that the Whatcom County project known as the Gateway Pacific Terminal would impact the treaty-protected fishing rights of Lummi Nation, based on the fact that the proposed trestle and associated wharf would take up 122 acres over water.
Unlike the Longview proposal, the EIS for the Gateway Pacific Terminal has not been completed, and the reports associated with the study will be shelved in case the process is picked up again.
In its EIS ruling on the Longview proposal, the Corps raised concerns about train noise and rail traffic causing problems for nearby low-income neighborhoods, but it said the effects on Native American fishing areas and the proliferation of coal dust were less significant, the Billings Gazette in Montana reported.
However, the Corps reports it “will continue to consult with tribes to identify potential project impacts that could affect protected tribal lands and resources.”
Coal companies say they are optimistic after reading the environmental impact statement. The coal industry has faced tougher pollution standards and competition from the cheaper natural gas sector, but companies said the coal market is cyclical and will rebound.
The Washington terminal will be there when the market picks up, said Rick Curtsinger of Cloud Peak Energy, which mines coal in southeast Montana and has a financial stake in the Cherry Point project.
Cloud Peak has an agreement with Millennium Bulk Terminals to ship 7 million tons of coal per year through the port.
Environmentalists, however, argued that the environmental impact statement ignored some of the project’s problems, such as impacts on communities along the rest of the rail corridor.
“It’s rather surprising that (the report) would seem favorable because five of six coal port terminals have been rejected or dropped because they’re either undue burdens on communities or there’s no market for coal abroad. Increasingly, there’s no market in the U.S. for coal,” said Kate French, chairwoman of the Northern Plains Resource Council, which is based in Billings.
The public will have 60 days to respond to the 3,000-page draft report.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.