Anti-coal activists squared off against pro-business interests Thursday as Pasco hosted the third and final hearing on the proposed Millennium Bulk Terminals coal export terminal at Longview.
The two-part hearing attracted about 100 red-shirted coal activists and an equal number of blue-shirted supporters of the coal export plan to TRAC.
The hearing was intended to take public comment on a 4,000- page draft environmental impact statement released in late April by Cowlitz County and the Washington Department of Ecology. Written comment will be accepted through June 13 and will form the basis for the final impact statement, due in 2017.
The hearing offered a stage for both sides to make their case. Climate change activists asked state officials to block the coal-based businesses. Millennium organized employees and other supporters to tout the economic benefits of the $680 million privately-funded project.
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At full operations, Millennium will employ about 135 and will support an estimated 300 jobs in Longview.
The Pasco meeting was tame relative to the 1,000-plus crowds that participated in the hearings in Longview and Spokane.
But speakers were no less passionate, alternately supporting the project as an investment in jobs and infrastructure or deriding coal for its contributions to global warming.
The Longview terminal would accept an estimated eight trains loaded with coal from the Powder River Basin in Montana and Wyoming per day, or 44 million metric tons per year.
BNSF Railway Co. would haul the coal through its Pasco hump yard and on to Longview. Coal destined for British Columbia already moves through the yard, which employs about 250 Tri-Citians.
Last year, BNSF built a first-of-its-kind re-spray facility at Pasco to manage coal dust issues that had caused trouble near mines. The $26 million investment includes a shed-like structure that straddles the tracks. The highly-technical operation deploys sprayers to coat passing coal cars with a nontoxic sealing agent that minimizes coal dust.
The draft environmental impact statement dismisses the threat of coal dust. But critics aren’t buying it.
Lora Rathbone of Richland, a full-time activist on climate issues, said communities along the 1,200-mile journey from mine to terminal will pay for corporate profits in the form of increased train traffic and air pollution.
“All we will get is miles of noisy trains with polluting diesel and coal dust,” said Rathbone, who joined a delegation organized by the Power Past Coal coalition, which has lobbied against numerous coal export proposals in Washington and Oregon.
All we will get is miles of noisy trains with polluting diesel and coal dust.
Lora Rathbone, Richland
But Clio Christensen of Longview traveled to Pasco to share how her community saw industrial jobs vanish when Alcoa, formerly Reynolds Aluminum, shuttered the very smelter Millennium wants to redevelop.
“It used to be a good place to live,” she said. “Millennium is offering good jobs.”
There were differing views among Native American speakers as well.
Cathy Sampson-Kruse of the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Reservation asked officials to consider the sacred nature of the territory and reject the terminal.
But Montana’s Crow Tribe supports the project “100 percent,” said Dana Wilson, vice chairman of the 14,000-member tribe. The Crows have mined coal on their reservation for 40 years. They sell chiefly to a customer in Minnesota.
“If this is opened up, this would give us an opportunity to export,” Wilson said. “Coal is the most important natural resource to my people and being able to develop it is critical to the tribe’s long-term efforts to become self-sufficient.”
Coal is the most important natural resource to my people and being able to develop it is critical to the tribe’s long-term efforts to become self-sufficient.
Dana Wilson, vice-chairman, Crow Tribe
Millennium Bulk Terminals has invested $14 million to date in the 500-acre Longview property it leases from Alcoa Aluminum, said Bill Chapman, president and CEO.
Until a year ago, it received alumina at the terminal for import to Alcoa’s Eastern Washington aluminum plant. Those activities are on hiatus until aluminum prices rebound. It also receives Powder River Basin coal by rail, which is then sent by truck to Weyerhaeuser Co. to fuel drying operations.
Chapman said he’s relieved that the draft of the environmental impact statements is complete. His company is comfortable with most of the information it contains. He expects the final version will not call on Millennium to account for the climate impact of the coal it handles from the mine to the final destination.
“We think they will make progress in clarifying that,” he said.
Millennium Bulk is expected to export coal chiefly to customers in Japan and South Korea. Japan is constructing more than 40 coal-fired power plants to replace power lost when it shuttered its nuclear plans following the 2011 Fukushima disaster.
Officials expect to receive up to 500,000 comments on the draft environmental impact statement. They will be incorporated into the final statement, which is due in 2017 and is required under Washington’s State Environmental Policy Act.
The EIS will then be submitted to the agencies tasked with permitting the project — Cowlitz County and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
To submit comments online