The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has pressed “pause” on its environmental review of a coal export terminal on the Columbia River in Oregon, after that state last month rejected a permit the terminal’s proponent needed to build a dock.
The corps announced the decision in a statement released today, Monday, Sept. 15:
The corps’ decision to stop its assessment of the environmental impacts of Ambre Energy’s terminal at Coyote Island, near Boardman Ore., was about time management.
“We still have quite a bit of work to do on our own permit review process,” corps spokesman Scott Clemans said. “It doesn’t make sense to devote those resources until the outcome of that process of the (state) permit is known.”
Clemans provided more context on where the corps stands with the Oregon project. In a way, the corps is about three years behind where it is with the Gateway Pacific Terminal. For the Port of Morrow terminal, the corps hasn’t decided whether it needs an environmental impact statement — the more involved environmental review that comes if a project is expected to have a significant adverse environmental impact.
That determination was made for Gateway Pacific Terminal back in 2011.
For Coyote Island, the corps was still conducting an “environmental assessment” — trying to determine what level of environmental review is needed.
“The Seattle District didn’t do an environmental assessment,” Clemans said, referring to how the corps’ Seattle office approached both Gateway Pacific Terminal at Cherry Point and the Millennium Bulk Terminal at Longview, Wash. “The effects on the environment (on those WA projects) were orders of magnitude greater than ours (in Oregon).”
Clemans continued: “The footprint of those two projects is really large, and it was really easy for the Seattle District, without going through a formal EA, to say, ‘This is going to require an EIS,’” or environmental impact statement.
“All we’re dealing with is a relatively small dock.”
That small dock at Coyote Island raised enough environmental concerns to cause that state on Aug. 18 to reject the construction permit. The small dock was also complicated enough to make the corps’ environmental assessment take more time than usual.
“For an environmental assessment, it has definitely been a pretty lengthy period,” Clemans said.
The two most time-consuming elements of the assessment in Oregon will be part of the corps’ review of Gateway Pacific Terminal as well: making sure the project is acceptable with respect to endangered marine species and tribes’ treaty rights to their usual and accustomed fishing grounds.
“Those two pieces tend to be the lengthiest part of any permit,” Clemans said.
The corps and Lummi Nation have been meeting to discuss Gateway Pacific Terminal for quite some time now — at least for the year-plus that I’ve been paying attention to Whatcom’s coal port proposal. Given Lummis’ strong public displays of opposition to the terminal, it’s hard to imagine those discussions going very far to this point.
Groups on both sides of the coal-terminal debate weighed in on the corps’ announcement today that it was halting its review of the Oregon project.
Here’s the full statement from Power Past Coal:
Finally, Liz Fuller, spokeswoman for Oregon project proponent Ambre Energy, gave this response: