Washington Farm Bureau CEO John Stuhlmiller said Monday that he was disappointed but not surprised that the Department of Ecology denied a key permit for a coal export terminal on the Columbia River in Longview.
The project’s purpose, shipping Powder River Basin coal to Asia, probably will doom it with Gov. Jay Inslee’s climate change-conscious administration, he said.
“The fact that you’re moving coal is heavy on everybody’s mind,” Stuhlmiller said. “Personally, I think it’s probably a legacy issue for the administration,”
The Farm Bureau has supported Millennium Bulk Terminals since the coal company began applying for permits more than five years and seven months ago. The Farm Bureau says that new rail lines and docks in the state will help all exporters, including farmers.
The proposal suffered a major setback Sept. 26 when Ecology denied a permit that Millennium needs under the federal Clean Water Act to fill wetlands and dredge the Columbia River. Millennium complained Ecology was biased against the project and said that it will appeal to the Environmental and Land Use Hearings Office, a state board.
An alliance of business groups has organized a campaign to send emails to Ecology to demonstrate public support for the terminal, and the Farm Bureau has asked its members to join in.
Ecology didn’t mention climate change in its 19-page denial letter to Millennium, but Ecology has said it would hold Millennium responsible for increased carbon emissions in countries that take the coal.
Ecology’s stated reasons for denying the permit — one of about 20 state, federal and local permits the project needs — weren’t confined to wetlands or the river. Ecology’s concerns included noise, air pollution, traffic at rail crossings and crowded shipping lanes.
Ecology Director Maia Bellon said in a written statement there were “simply too many unavoidable and negative impacts for the project to move forward.”
Many of the reasons given by Ecology were related to how the project would affect a neighborhood across a state highway from Longview’s heavily industrialized waterfront. A study found an influx of locomotives would raise cancer rates, according to Ecology.
Millennium proposes to build the terminal at what was an abandoned aluminum plant. Millennium cleaned up the site and imports a modest amount of alumina, also known as aluminum oxide, and also handles coal used by a neighboring mill.
One of the reasons cited by Ecology for denying the permit was that exporting coal would require demolishing unused industrial buildings, which could be put on the National Register of Historic Places.
“It wasn’t just about water quality, which it should have been,” Stuhlmiller said. “It’s probably the most egregious permit denial I’ve seen.”
Stuhlmiller said that he’s concerned Ecology has set a precedent by making what he called a “commodity-driven decision” that could bar exporting other politically contested goods. “The commodity de jour is coal, but it will be other things,” he said.