Sunday, September 22, 2013

Ecology's Coal Scope Non Precedent

Washington State Senator Doug Ericksen's (R-42nd) sent a letter to the Washington State Department of Ecology expressing concerns about the scope of the Environmental Impact Statement for the proposed coal terminal in Whatcom County. His view reflects the views of many coal terminal supporters. The letter and reply from Ecology has generated some fairly typical posturing (

The primary concern is about precedent regarding these scope items Ecology is requiring for the review:
  • A detailed assessment of rail transportation on other representative communities in Washington and a general analysis of out-of-state rail impacts.
  • An assessment of how the project would affect human health in Washington.
  • A general assessment of cargo-ship impacts beyond Washington waters.
  • An evaluation and disclosure of greenhouse gas emissions of end-use coal combustion.
However, despite coal terminal proponents protestations, the scope of review Ecology is seeking may not really be all that much of a precedent in the larger picture of environmental impact statements for similar projects. A rail project from the Powder Basin to the upper Midwest was required to review transportation impacts and noise impacts. The initial EIS process assessed impacts to traffic and emergency vehicles and which led to a project mitigation requirement to have in place two new grade separated crossings to address emergency vehicle delays. (Note there was an interesting geology component to the rail routing in the EIS that led to expanding use of the existing rail line through potential traffic problem areas)

And upon appeal a limited further review of noise was required and a review green house gas emissions was required (

In the opinion the Court stated that indirect effects must be reviewed and that "Indirect effects are defined as those that are caused by the action and are later in time or further removed in distance, but still reasonably foreseeable. It is reasonably foreseeable - indeed, it is almost certainly true that the proposed project will increase the long term demand for coal and any adverse effects that result from burning coal. We believe that it would be irresponsible for the Board to approve a project of this scope without first examining the effects that may occur as a result of the reasonable foreseeable increase in coal consumption."

In the context of the similar scale coal terminal project at Cherry Point and the 8th Circuit opinion, Washington State Department of Ecology is being responsible. But not everyone agrees. 

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