Public plays its part in debate over coal export facility

We truly appreciate that 4,000 people recently gave up an afternoon or evening to share their concerns, interests and hopes during five scoping meetings for the proposed Millennium Bulk Terminals coal export facility in Longview. This shows how much people care about their communities and believe in the value of expressing their interests to their state and local governments.

These meetings gathered suggestions on what should be analyzed in the environmental review for the proposal. However, we also heard several things about the process worth clarifying because Washingtonians want to understand how our laws work.

The proposal is in the early phase of regulatory review. Think about the review process as having two main phases: the environmental review segment followed by the permit segment.

Another point to make clear is that people can continue to share their thoughts on what should be included in the environmental review through Nov. 18. Speaking at a meeting did not give comments more “weight.” Every comment is being considered by our agencies, no matter how it’s submitted – via email, the website, postal mail or at a meeting.

To date, more than 82,000 comments have been received by Cowlitz County, the Department of Ecology Southwest Regional Office and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

The county and Ecology are conducting the state’s environmental review and will publish an EIS required by the State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA). The Corps is conducting the federal government’s environmental review and will prepare an EIS required by the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). Our three agencies are working together using a synchronized process to improve efficiency and avoid duplication.

Scoping is the first step in the EIS process and provides everyone an opportunity to help shape what will be analyzed. The agencies will decide what to study after scoping closes Nov. 18. The time frame for determining the scope of the EISs will depend, in part, on the number of comments received and their substance.

Once decisions on what to study are made by the agencies, the draft EISs will be researched and written. This is step two in the EIS process. When the drafts are complete, there will be another public comment period. All comments on the draft EISs will be considered before final environmental review documents are issued. Issuance of the final EISs is the last step in the environmental review process.

Only after the final EISs (one state and one federal) are issued will local, state and federal agencies be able to begin the permitting phase.

How will data in the EISs be used by permit decision makers? They will refer to the documents for baseline information about the proposal. However, they will also rigorously examine specific data and reports required by their respective permit applications. Every permit process has its own steps before decisions can be made.

An EIS can take a year or more, depending on the complexity of the site, the proposal and other factors. We urge people to stay informed during the environmental review phase by:

 • Checking the joint environmental review website www.millenniumbulkeiswa.gov.

 • Signing up for the Millennium Bulk Terminals – Longview EIS project email listserv: tinyurl.com/luknjjx.

The regulatory process for the Millennium proposal is separate from other regulatory reviews for proposed export terminals in Whatcom County (Gateway Pacific) or in Oregon (Port of Morrow/Coyote Island). They are being analyzed based on their own site-specific factors. They have different timelines and different regulatory teams conducting the reviews.

For the Millennium process, we thank everyone who attended scoping meetings. People helped uphold a respectful and civil tenor. Attendees followed the ground rules that sustained a safe and non-intimidating tone. This allowed every voice to be heard, and meant disruptions did not hamper anyone’s ability to speak.

It also means the agencies were able to maximize the number of oral comments taken during the meetings. In all, the agencies greeted about 4,000 attendees and received almost 1,300 verbal and written comments at meetings in Longview, Spokane, Pasco, Clark County and Tacoma.

All materials available at scoping meetings are available online at www.millenniumbulkeiswa.gov.

Convenient ways to comment in writing until Nov. 18 are:

 • Website: www.millenniumbulkeiswa.gov

 • Email: comments@millenniumbulkeiswa.gov

 • Postal mail: Millennium Bulk Terminals-Longview EIS, c/o ICF International, 701 Second Ave., Suite 550, Seattle, WA 98104.

Sally Toteff is the Department of Ecology’s Southwest Region director. Elaine Placido is the Cowlitz County director of building and planning.