State department of ecology releases environmental review of export terminal, sets “troubling” regulatory precedent

The Washington Department of Ecology released its environmental review of the Millennial Bulk Terminal project Friday. As anticipated, the occasion revived concerns that the state is selectively misusing its regulatory authority. 

The department writes,

The in-depth report details how the proposed Millennium Bulk Terminals project near Longview in Cowlitz County would cause numerous impacts to the environment, local neighborhoods, and transportation. It also identifies potential mitigation measures to reduce some, but not all of the impacts…

Officially known as the Environmental Impact Statement, the report is not a decision or permit. It uses scientific methods, computer models, and the best available data to provide information and analyses. The report will be used by the public and the 10 agencies that will consider the more than 20 permits needed for the coal terminal.

The Alliance for Northwest Jobs and Exports, a supporter of the project, responded to the report in a press release

Washington state is closed for business – unless regulators are comfortable with the commodity or product. 
That’s essentially what the Washington State Department of Ecology told Millennium Bulk Terminals today when it ruled the company would have to mitigate for half of the emissions generated by overseas use of coal exported through Longview. 
Mariana Parks, spokeswoman for the Alliance, offered the following statement in the wake of today’s decision: 
“This is use of a state regulatory policy to police the use of products outside of Washington state is simply unheard of. We don’t penalize farmers for agricultural products used in foreign markets, or aerospace manufacturers. But because it’s coal, state polices are being used to enforce the end-use of products around the globe. It’s unprecedented, and telegraphs the wrong message about doing business in Washington state.

In our 2015 foundation report, we cited the department’s proposed review as an example of regulatory overreach.

In terms of regulatory content, Washington regulations routinely exceed the minimums required by federal law. For example, the state chose to require a global environmental impact statement, rather than a project-specific analysis, for proposed coal export facilities in 2014.

For more discussion of the issue see this post from September 2016.

The Association of Washington Business reports on the EIS in Fast Facts.

The EIS weighs in at 11,000 pages, and includes a never-before-seen interpretation of the State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA) that would require Millennium to offset any impact, anywhere in the world, from the burning of coal transported through the southwest Washington shipping facility.

“This is truly an unprecedented application of the SEPA process, which was designed to mitigate for impacts near a project’s site and within the state of Washington,” said AWB President Kris Johnson. “This sets a troubling precedent. At a time when we’re competing in a global marketplace, employers need certainty and predictability. Regulatory decisions like this only exacerbate the review process, especially for areas of the state in need of job growth and economic development.”

AWB notes the jobs at risk.

Millennium’s terminal project in Longview would create 2,950 jobs and $5.4 million in annual tax revenue for Cowlitz County. That’s good news for workers in an economically struggling region, said Lee Newgent, executive secretary of the Washington State Building & Construction Trades.

The Associated Press reports the response from the company,

In a statement, Millennium CEO Bill Chapman said, “We have carefully designed the project to protect air and water quality, fish and wildlife, groundwater and people in accordance with regulatory requirements.”

The EIS won’t be the last word on the project. But the precedent being established is troubling.