Edges and Corners of Bloackadia
Wednesday, March 14, 2018
EDGES AND CORNERS OF BLOACKADIA: The Skagit County Board of Commissioners last week dismissed arguments made by environmental organizations and upheld a key permit for the Tesoro (recently renamed Andeavor) Anacortes Refinery to export new petrochemicals.
The permit is one of several the refinery needs before it can complete the proposed project to export raw xylenes to markets in Asia. Xylenes are a petrochemical used in manufacturing plastics, films and related products.
“Despite significant public concerns raised about the project, the board opted not to consider whether the Environmental Impact Statement had adequately considered all of the project’s impacts,” the environmental groups noted in a joint statement. “The board also decided not to require a more rigorous Shoreline Conditional Use permit for the project.”
Because the permit in question is a shoreline substantial use permit, the county commissioners said they were limited to considering only shoreline development and the impacts of that development within 200 feet of the refinery’s wharf off March Point.
Not so, countered the groups. But they lost this round.
The groups that had appealed the decision are considering their options and next move. Organizations include Stand.earth, RE Sources for Sustainable Communities, Friends of the San Juans, Friends of the Earth, Sierra Club, and Evergreen Islands community organizers.
During a Feb. 27 hearing for the appeal, representatives and attorneys for the environment groups made the case that the project impacts are much larger, and must include consideration of increased marine vehicle traffic.
Completed, the expansion would allow the refinery to produce and ship as much as 15,000 barrels per day of mixed xylenes. The project would result in the addition of approximately 60 vessel trips per month through a sensitive (and suffering) portion of the Salish Sea. March Point is adjacent to the Padilla Bay National Estuarine Reserve and the Fidalgo Bay Aquatic Reserve, both with shoreline of designated significance.
Attorneys for Andeavor said that the emphasis on xylenes for the manufacture of plastics offers a net benefit when compared to making gasoline for combustion—a net benefit of 525,755 fewer tons per year of released greenhouse gases, the project’s proponents claim. Such claims, of course, ignore the certainty that there will be no net transfer of one activity for the other: Gasoline will also continue to be refined and distributed at Andeavor, alongside xylenes.
The project involves upgrading and building new equipment at the refinery to achieve three main goals: extract the chemical compound xylene during the refining process for shipment to Asia, reduce sulfur in refined fuel products and reduce emissions from vessels docked at the refinery’s wharf.
The shoreline permit focuses on this third component, for which the refinery would build a marine vapor emissions control system to capture emissions. Commissioners were advised by staff to keep their focus on that limited shoreline use and impact.
“Obviously, we’re disappointed in the outcome,” said Chris Winter, a senior attorney with Crag Law Center. “The County Planning Department and Hearing Examiner made a number of mistakes based on an incomplete environmental review. Rather than correct those mistakes, the County Commissioners chose to circle the wagons.”
Environmental groups said the project will increase the likelihood of a vessel spill that would harm the endangered southern resident orcas and impact island communities, and that the project will increase emissions that contribute to climate change.
But commissioners pushed back, saying that because the issue is a shorelines permit their conversation and scope must be limited to discussion of the shorelines area.
“This decision has broad implications for the health and safety of the Salish Sea and our climate,” Kyle Loring, a staff attorney with Friends of the San Juans, argued. “Tesoro cannot export 15,000 barrels per day of xylenes without this permit, but the commissioners declined to review the risks and impacts of that shipping. That choice conflicts with the reasonable requirement to review all environmental impacts associated with a project,” he said.
“This project’s potential for doing irreparable environmental harm to our Salish Sea is why our coalition came together, to hold governments and industry to the highest standards,” Tom Glade, president of Evergreen Islands explained. ”The regulators have failed to properly regulate new industrial activity and its impacts. This project will transform the existing wharf into a petrochemical export terminal, a new use that was never before considered or approved.
“The decision today continues those mistakes.”
After nearly a decade in the fight, the edges and corners of Blockadia are becoming well established.
Many permits are needed for major export projects, and only one needs to be denied. The greatest obstacle to the fossil fuel industry’s relentless push to open the Pacific coast to new markets has been the defiant refusal of residents of the Pacific Northwest to play along.
“We’re the last place on earth that should settle for the tired old retread of the false choice between jobs and the environment,” notes KC Golden, senior policy analyst for Climate Solutions. “It’s not just a slap in the face to ‘green’ groups. It’s a moral disaster and affront to our identity as a community.”
The Pacific Northwest is stopping those proposals,” said Dan Serres, the conservation director of the environmental group Columbia Riverkeeper, after a Tesoro project was recently halted in Vancouver, Wash. “We call ourselves the thin green line, but I think it’s bigger than that. It’s community by community, really envisioning a cleaner future. And I think it gives people hope that we don’t have to keep building this infrastructure. We can do better than this and we are.”
Fortunately, Winter said, the public can get another shot at the Skagit devision through the Shoreline Hearings Board.
“We will be discussing this option and will announce our next steps shortly,” he promised.