Legislators and environmental activists opposing the development of a Gateway Pacific coal terminal outside of Bellingham have reason to celebrate: After gathering feedback from 125,000 Washington residents on a project that would make our state the #1 coal exporter on the planet, the State Department of Ecology announced today that it will study a broad and damning array of environmental impacts before determining whether to grant the coal export terminal the permits it needs to move forward with development.
These factors include: impacts to other rail transportation, human health, greenhouse gases, and extensive analysis of the projects’ nearby impacts on wetlands, shorelines, water and air quality, cultural and archeological resources, fish and wildlife, even noise and vibration impacts.
As Sightline's Eric de Place plainly puts it, this is bad news for the coal industry:
Of those, two stand to be particularly damaging for would-be coal exporters: rail impacts and greenhouse gas emissions. There’s not a lot of wiggle room with either of those elements.
First, burning the 48 million tons of coal proposed for export at the terminal annually would release roughly 100 million tons of carbon dioxide, a staggering figure that amounts to as much carbon pollution as every activity in the state of Washington combined. In other words, it’s a clear environmental disaster that would overshadow every other effort the state has made to reduce climate-changing emissions.
Second, moving that much coal to a terminal will create congestion throughout the region. There’s simply no way around the math. In Seattle, for example, both Sightline and the traffic analysis firm Parametrix have confirmed that new coal export shipments would completely close major center city streets by an additional 1 to 3 hours every day, 365 days per year.
Meanwhile, state Representative Reuven Carlyle (D-36), who's been an outspoken critic and organizer against the coal terminal, calls today's announcement proof that "sometimes math matters. Facts matter. Details matter. This is proof that the state of Washington is not going to punt on conducting an unbelievably rigorous, serious, and nonpolitical review of this 19th century proposal. We're going to do a deep dive on every issue and present policy makers with the data to make good decisions. This is what we say we want government to do, and with the federal government retreating into the abyss of impotence, it's really cool to have the state government step up."
Carlyle expounds on today's victory, and contrasts it with that lack of federal leadership, on his livejournal:
The troubling story behind the headlines, however, is the lack of policy thought leadership by the federal government. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, as the lead federal agency, is focusing under NEPA on a narrow examination of impacts solely under their direct authority. At a time when the federal government is virtually paralyzed by the institutional grip of inaction–despite President Obama’s call for proposals to be examined through a measurable environmental framework–it is jolting to recognize that no broad-based federal assessment, review or examination is occurring on this massive interstate commerce issue. The federal government’s deafening silence is a clarion call of action to Olympia, Salem, Boise, Helena, Cheyenne and other state capitals to dust off the 10th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution itself to defend our individual and even regional interests against a lethargic federal bureaucracy.
The takeaway from today’s announcement? This decision lays the groundwork for project delays and litigation, all but creating a lightning rod for public opposition. Go hug a tree! Buy a wetland a drink! This is very good news.