Environmental groups in B.C. are looking with both frustration and hope to a sweeping environmental review announced Wednesday of a proposed $650-million coal terminal in Washington State.
The review process for Millennium Bulk Terminals in Longview, Wash., will include investigation of the global-warming effects of burning exported coal in Asia, as well as statewide rail effects.
Those are the very issues that groups such as the Vancouver-based Voters Taking Action for Climate Change were unsuccessful in getting included in a review of the Fraser Surrey Dock’s proposed $15-million coal-handling facility.
“It’s frustrating,” said Voters director Kevin Washbrook. “We should be doing that for B.C. as well. It’s common sense.”
The new facility in Surrey is meant to initially handle up to four million tonnes of coal a year from Wyoming, which would be loaded on barges, shipped to Texada Island, and then onto ships destined for Asia. Further expansion plans could double the amount of coal shipped to Asia.
The thermal coal would be burned to produce power, often called the dirtiest energy by critics because it produces more carbon for the amount of energy produced than other fossil fuels such as oil and natural gas.
According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, coal produces about twice as much carbon dioxide as natural gas to produce the same amount of energy.
The review of the Surrey coal-handling facility is complete, but Port Metro Vancouver has not announced a decision yet.
Port officials declined to comment on its position on including issues such as global warming in its reviews of projects.
Surrey Fraser Docks declined to comment Wednesday on the scope of the Washington State review.
ForestEthics campaigner Ben West said he hopes the decision on the sweeping review of Millennium Bulk Terminals will put pressure on Canada to recognize the climate implications of transportation infrastructure in environmental assessments.
“This is something we have been asking for in Canada,” said West.
Environmentalists had demanded that global-warming effects be included in the reviews of major projects such as Enbridge’s $6.5-billion Northern Gateway pipeline and Kinder Morgan’s $5.4-billion Trans Mountain pipeline expansion. Both projects are meant to open up new markets in Asia for diluted bitumen from the Alberta oilsands.
The announcement of the sweeping review was lauded as a victory by project opponents in Washington State, who said the decision ensures that concerns over coal dust, greenhouse gas emissions and rail traffic are addressed.
“It’s appropriate for such a massive project,” said Brett VandenHeuvel, executive director of the Columbia Riverkeeper. “It’s encouraging to see the agencies take to heart the deep public interest in protecting our communities.”
Some national and local business and labour groups criticized the broad scope, saying “cradle to grave” permitting isn’t justified and would have a chilling effect on trade and economic development. A similar view is held by shipping and coal industry representatives in British Columbia.
Ken Miller, president and CEO of Millennium Bulk Terminals-Longview, said in a statement Wednesday the company had hoped to be hiring workers now, two years after submitting permits, but was pleased the agencies are moving forward.
The National Association of Manufacturers, the attorneys general of North Dakota and Montana and others had argued for a narrower focus, saying there’s no precedent for such a far-reaching analysis.
“This decision sets an unnecessary precedent for manufacturers that could make it harder to obtain approvals for almost every product we export, from grains to airplanes,” Ross Eisenberg with the National Association of Manufacturers said in a statement Wednesday.
The project, planned by Ambre Energy Ltd. and Arch Coal Inc., would handle up to 44 million metric tons of coal from the Powder River Basin of Montana and Wyoming at a terminal near Longview.
It’s one of three coal-export docks proposed in Washington and Oregon. The other projects are near Bellingham, Wash., and Boardman, Ore.
Washington state regulators said they received more than 215,000 comments on the proposed Longview terminal. A bulk of them submitted as part of massive public comment campaigns organized by various groups.
Ecology’s Sally Toteff said the environmental review will look at the amount greenhouse gas emissions attributable to the project on-site and when coal is burned in Asia, but it won’t look at impacts within any country that imports the coal.
The environmental review could take years. It’s required before many local, state and federal permits can be approved. The county and state are conducting one review, while the Army Corps of Engineers is doing a separate one.
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