COAL TRAINS: Killers of canaries, delayers of traffic
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  • COAL TRAINS: Killer of canaries, delayer of traffic

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Yesterday, state regulators in Oregon denied a permit to build a coal terminal along the Columbia River that would export eight million metric tons of coal annually to Asian markets. This decision is very significant in the Northwest, where environmentalists have been battling six coal terminal proposals in Oregon and Washington over the last four years: It's the first time a state agency in either state has rejected a permit for these terminals. (Three other proposals were shelved when companies pulled their plans or lease agreements expired.)

Via the Seattle Times:

In denying an important permit, the Department of State Lands said Monday the terminal would interfere with what regulators called “a small but important and longstanding fishery in the state’s waters.”

The department said the applicant, Ambre Energy, presented some possible options to mitigate the effect on fishing, but failed to commit to any specific action. It also said Ambre hadn’t properly investigated alternatives that would avoid construction of a new dock.

“From reading more than 20,000 public comments to carefully analyzing technical documents and plans, this application has been scrutinized for months,” agency director Mary Abrams said. “We believe our decision is the right one.”

This is great news for Oregon, and it gives hope to Washington residents who've been battling two much larger proposals—Gateway Pacific's Cherry Point Terminal outside of Bellingham, which would export 48 million metric tons annually, and Millennium Bulk's Terminal, which would export 44 million in Longview—for years now. As Kimberly Larson, a spokesperson for Power Past Coal, explains: "In making their decision, Oregon state regulators were looking at navigation of the waterways, what the impacts to fishing would be, the impacts to water rights. Obviously, you can't just extrapolate Oregon law versus Washington, but in reviewing whether to ship eight million tons of coal down the Columbia, they decided the impacts weren't worth it."

Environmentalists are hopeful that Washington State regulators will come to the same conclusion when examining what 48 and 44 million tons would do to Puget Sound waterways. The state Department of Ecology has already committed to studying a broad and damning array of environmental impacts before granting permits for the Cherry Point Terminal, including impacts to 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.

But we've still got a wait on our hands: The state isn't expected to release a draft environmental impact statement until sometime next year, at the earliest.