Here's a rare bit of good news in a cycle otherwise dominated by men behaving badly, North Korean nukes, and Trump tweets: The Washington State Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council in Olympia voted to reject a proposed $210 million oil terminal in Vancouver, Washington on Tuesday.
The terminal—which was supported by the oil and rail industries, and opposed by tribes, environmentalists, and Vancouver voters—would move 360,000 barrels of oil from the Bakken Shale fields in North Dakota and Montana to West Coast refineries, where it could then be shipped overseas to more lucrative energy markets. The terminal would occupy nearly 50 acres along the Columbia River, and opponents have been (rightly) concerned about potential derailments and explosion. Crude oil from the Bakken shale is especially flammable, and the trains that transport it, sometimes called "bomb trains," have been involved in high profile accidents, including a 2013 derailment in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, that killed 47 and destroyed the town center.
While the Lac-Mégantic detrailment was the most deadly of its kind in recent history, it was far from the only one. Dozens of derailments and explosions have occurred across the U.S. and Canada over the past few years, including a 2016 detrailment on the Oregon side of the Columbia near the town of Mosier, which led to an evacuation after multiple cars caught fire. Elizabeth Sanchey, one of the first responders at the scene, told Oregon Public Broadcasting that it “looked like the apocalypse.”
In addition to bomb trains, environmental groups have concerns about the impact of the project on the climate and local communities. A 1,200-page environmental impact statement prepared by the state’s Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council—which was discussed at the meeting in Olympia on Tuesday—noted that, in addition to rail accidents, the project could result in emergency response delays from added train traffic and environmental impacts on low-income communities that live along the rail corridor.
The council made their unanimous decision to recommend rejected the oil terminal less than five minutes into a special meeting at the state capitol, and, according to The Columbian, "Many people in the audience, which filled the meeting chambers and overflowed into two other viewing rooms, reacted with audible gasps when EFSEC councilman and Clark County Public Works employee Greg Shafer made the motion for the council to recommend rejection of the project." The final decision will come down to Gov. Jay Inslee, who will have 60 days to decide whether to accept or reject the council's recommendation.
Big Oil, for their part, is less than pleased.
“We are extremely disappointed, especially after a review of more than four years in a process that state law says should take one year,” said Jeff Hymas, a spokesman for the Vancouver Energy project, said in a statement. The council “has set an impossible standard for new energy facilities … This decision sends a clear anti-development message that will have a chilling effect on business in the state of Washington."