Wednesday, September 27, 2017
BLOCKADIA: Perhaps the final stake was driven into the heart of the Pacific Coast coal export business this week, when the state Dept. of Ecology denied a necessary water quality permit for the proposed Millennium Bulk Terminals coal export facility in Longview, citing the project’s negative impacts on climate, clean air and water. Absent a successful legal challenge by petitioners with cratered finances teetering on insolvency, the denial renders the project formally dead.
“After extensive study and deliberation, I am denying Millennium’s proposed coal export project,” Ecology Director Maia Bellon said. “There are simply too many unavoidable and negative environmental impacts for the project to move forward.”
If built, Millennium would have been the largest coal export facility in North America, sending up to 44 million tons of Powder River and Uinta Basin coal per year to Asian markets that are quickly turning away from coal-fired power.
The state’s own analysis found that the climate pollution from this project would be equivalent to adding eight million cars to the road at a time when our changing climate is building catastrophic forest fires and stronger hurricanes. Millennium would also add up to 16 trains a day traveling between the Powder River Basin and Longview, tying up traffic and impacting public safety response times in rail communities across the Pacific Northwest.
“The coal terminal also would have increased diesel pollution, a toxic air pollutant, and caused an unavoidable increase in cancer risk rates in a neighborhood along the rail line in Longview,” the agency reported.
“The state did the right thing today, standing up for clean water, public health and the Pacific Northwest’s iconic endangered salmon runs,” Power Past Coal Co-Director Jasmine Zimmer-Stucky said in a statement.
Ecology’s decision on Millennium comes at an opportune moment for Whatcom County Council as that body prepares another six-month extension of a moratorium on applications and permits for new or expanded unrefined fossil-fuel export facilities at Cherry Point. Ecology’s exhaustive collection of data on the impacts of pollution, rail and vessel traffic congestion, and impacts to air and water quality at Longview all factor to an analogous conclusion here. Doubtless, Ecology’s conclusions will resonate in Council’s decision to continue the ban.
Early on, the agency decided to consider health impacts across Washington, rail and tanker traffic impacts throughout the region, and cumulative impacts of burning coal in Asia. They partnered with sister agencies in Oregon, and they held public hearings on the issue across the state and in cities like Spokane, a rail nexus that would keenly feel the impacts of increased rail traffic.
Their methods should serve as a blueprint for county policy to comprehensively assess the human health and safety impacts from the transport of unrefined fuels, marine traffic impacts, rail traffic impacts, greenhouse gas emissions from burning the exported coal in Asia, and cumulative impacts from the series of these projects proposed at Cherry Point.
Millennium was the last major coal export project still left standing after nearly a dozen were proposed ten years ago. They all stalled, faded and collapsed, some more quickly than others. Public pressure played a key role, certainly, as did the coalition of Northwest tribes that climbed to their feet and found their voice in protest. But the mercurial economics of these projects was all wrong, too: They attempted to capitalize like a bankruptcy foreclosure on a fading industry, but the assets depreciated too quickly.
America had been hoodwinked by a con—our strategic coal, oil and gas reserves had been cracked open in a gambit to improve national security by decreasing our dependence on foreign sources of energy. But the business plan called for all that to be siphoned up and shipped off overseas to fuel competitive economies and enrich international energy cartels.
But not everyone was conned.
“The greatest obstacle in the coal industry’s plans to reach the sea has been the defiant refusal of the residents of the Pacific Northwest to play along,” author Naomi Klein wrote in This Changes Everything.
“Today the State of Washington stood up for clean water. The state’s decision to protect the water on the Columbia also helps protect farm and ranch irrigators,” said Miles City rancher Mark Fix, past chair of the Northern Plains Resource Council. “In southeastern Montana, coal seams are aquifers. Mining more coal for export would further disrupt our watersheds and lead to more salty water discharged into the rivers and streams we rely on in agriculture. If we don’t have water, we don’t have anything.”
“We hope this decision moves our community away from coal and other fossil fuel based polluting industry on the Lower Columbia,” said Gary Wallace, president of Landowners and Citizens for a Safe Community. “It’s time to move on to the future; clean, sustainable family-wage jobs that provide our area a reliable future so we can grow and attract more economic diversity and create the quality of life that maintains and enhances our families.”
“What is clear is that fighting a giant extractive industry on your own can seem impossible, especially in a remote, sparsely populated location. But being part of a continent-wide, even global, movement that has the industry surrounded is a very different story,” Klein wrote of the phenomenon she termed Blockadia.
“This networking and cross-pollinating is usually invisible—it’s a mood, an energy that spreads from place to place. But for a brief time, Blockadia’s web of inspiration was made visible.”