The Washington State Department of Ecology and Whatcom County announced Wednesday that an EIS study taking at least two years to get to draft stage would be undertaken in conjunction with the US Army Corp of Engineers.
The Gateway Pacific Terminal – proposed by Pacific International Terminals – would provide storage and handling of dry bulk commodity exports, including coal, grain, iron ore, salts and alumina. To support the terminal and other industries at Cherry Point, BNSF proposes to add rail facilities and install a second track along its six-mile branch line.
At full capacity, the shipping terminal would export 54 million metric tons per year of bulk commodities – including up to 48 million metric tons per year of coal – and could generate 18 train trips per day and more than 18 capesize vessel launches per week.
The Department of Ecology said the joint process enabled the agencies to avoid duplication by producing a single EIS to meet all of their statutory requirements.
The agencies will take a broad look at the impacts of the proposal through their environmental review, which will include: human health impacts from coal dust around the terminal and in communities along the rail line; marine traffic impacts and rail traffic impacts: greenhouse gas emissions from burning the exported coal in Asia; and cumulative impacts from the second proposed terminal in the state – Millennium Bulk Terminal in Longview, Washington.
The coal industry and its backers have been pushing for a series of ports in the Pacific North West but have been up against stern opposition from local communities and environmental groups.
The Alliance for Northwest Jobs & Exports said the decision set a precedent that could potentially interfere with international commerce laws protecting rail and trade while discouraging new business investment in the state.
“Today’s announcement represents an unprecedented treatment of rail and exports in Washington state and could have far-reaching repercussions that should concern anyone who cares about trade – of all kinds of products,” alliance spokeswoman Lauri Hennessey said.
“This decision has the potential to alter the Northwest’s long and historic commitment to expanding trade, which today supports four in every 10 jobs in Washington state.”
Environmental groups have applauded the decision and remain positive that the EIS will prevent the terminal’s development.
“This scope is a reflection of Northwest values – the depth and breadth of the scope is absolutely on target and appropriate given the impacts this project would have on our way of life,” Power Past Coal campaign director Cesia Kearns said.
“I applaud Washington’s leadership for using the full scope of their authority to examine this project carefully and urge Oregon to do the same.
“Coal is the dirtiest fossil fuel by far and we need fully evaluate what coal export would cost Northwest communities.”
The regulators said they reviewed and considered approximately 125,000 comments received during a 121-day public comment period last fall and winter on the scope for the EIS.