The company that wants to build and operate a large terminal in Longview to export coal from the western U.S. to Asia was denied a key permit by Washington state on Tuesday because of environmental concerns.
The Department of Ecology rejected a water quality permit that Millennium Bulk Terminals sought because the proposed facility near the city of Longview would have caused “significant and unavoidable harm” to the environment. The department cited effects to air quality, noise pollution and tribal resources, among others.
“There are simply too many unavoidable and negative environmental effects for the project to move forward,” Ecology Director Maia Bellon said in a statement.
The denial is the second major blow to a coal export terminal in Washington. In May 2016, the Army Corps of Engineers denied a needed permit for the Gateway Pacific terminal at Cherry Point in Whatcom County after finding it would damage tribal fishing rights. In February, developer Pacific International Terminals withdrew its application for Gateway Pacific, essentially closing the books on the project.
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44 million Tons of coal a year Millennium Bulk Terminals hoped to ship to markets in Asia
Millennium Bulk Terminals has long hoped to build a facility along the Columbia River to handle up to 44 million tons of coal a year. Trains would carry the coal from Montana, Wyoming and other states, which would be loaded onto ships headed to Asia.
Ecology concluded that the project, proposed for the site of the former Reynolds Metals Co. aluminum plant, would have filled 24 acres of wetlands, required 41.5 acres of the Columbia River bottom, and needed 537 pilings driven into the river for a new trestle and docks, according to The Daily News in Longview.
William Chapman, the president and CEO of Millennium, said the company will appeal the decision and expects “a fairer and more consistent interpretation of the law.”
“Multiple recent decisions by the agency seem biased against the Longview community, and particularly blind to the need for employment opportunities in Cowlitz County,” he said in a written statement.
Environmentalists, tribes and others have fiercely opposed the project — which could increase U.S. exports of coal by 40 percent — because of concerns about global warming, coal dust pollution and potential damage to fisheries on the river. Several of those groups lauded Tuesday’s decision.
The state did the right thing today, standing up for clean water, public health, and the Pacific Northwest’s iconic endangered salmon runs.
Jasmine Zimmer-Stucky, co-director of Power Past Coal.
“The state did the right thing today, standing up for clean water, public health, and the Pacific Northwest’s iconic endangered salmon runs,” said Jasmine Zimmer-Stucky, co-director of Power Past Coal, in a statement. “Washington State and the city of Longview deserve better than empty promises from the dying coal industry.”
Businesses, some labor groups and other supporters say the project would create jobs, add tax revenue and boost the local economy. The governor of Wyoming, the nation’s leading coal-producing state, previously traveled to the Pacific Northwest to pitch the importance of coal exports to the governors of Washington and Oregon.
Instead of turning away investment, our leaders should be encouraging responsible growth.
Kris Johnson, president of the Association of Washington Business
Kris Johnson, president of the Association of Washington Business, criticized the process that led to the decision, saying that the project has faced “unprecedented regulatory hurdles.”
“We need companies to invest in manufacturing, construction and infrastructure to support trade,” he wrote in a prepared statement. “Instead of turning away investment, our leaders should be encouraging responsible growth.”
Earlier this year, the state Department of Natural Resources denied a key aquatic land lease for Millennium to build a second dock on the Columbia River, citing the project’s lack of a viable business plan given Asian countries’ steadily declining demand for coal. Millennium is appealing the state’s decision and oral arguments in that case are scheduled for Oct. 27 in Cowlitz County Superior Court.
Also, an environmental review released in April by Ecology and Cowlitz County analyzed potential harm to fish habitat, wetlands, water quality, local communities and more. Of 23 environmental areas, 19 would face harmful effects, and some could not be offset or reduced, officials said at the time.
The review found that coal dust pollution from trains would not be major because emissions levels would be below state and federal standards, but pollution from locomotives would raise the cancer risk for one low-income neighborhood.
Residents also would see more 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.
Gov. Jay Inslee said he was confident that state ecology officials “based their decision on sound science and in accordance with the law.”
“It’s absolutely critical that all projects — particularly of this scale — undergo an objective and extensive review that ensures they are able to meet the standards necessary for protecting our land, air and water,” he said in an emailed statement.
Millennium did not immediately return a request for comment. The company can appeal the decision to the state Environmental and Land Use Hearings Office.