Coal Transport and Export
"Regulators have received 163,000 [public] comments on the proposed Millennium Bulk Terminals coal dock west of Longview — likely the biggest public response to a project in state history". -Erik Olson, Longview Daily News
Big Coal companies intend to expand their west coast foreign exports to ~100 million tons of coal per year. This means more infrastructure and the need for additional export terminals along the coast. It also means big changes for many small towns whose rail lines will be flooded with coal shipments bound for Asian markets.
We believe shipping huge quantities of coal on our rail lines is bad for our watershed and its communities. When mined and burned, coal becomes a toxic compound. It carries heavy metals, radioactive compounds and carcinogens that have the potential to severely degrade water quality. The coal, mined from the Powder River Basin in Wyoming and Montana, will be shipped westward in open rail cars on its way to the proposed export facilities in Washington and Oregon. The proposed route for transport includes ~30 miles of shoreline directly adjacent to and over Lake Pend Oreille.
With the increase in coal exports, Bonner County stands to see up to 40 coal trains per day, with no economic incentive and many threats to our natural resources, economy and public health. And we're not alone; citizens across the Pacific and Inland Northwest face the possibility of increased coal transport through their communities as Big Coal pushes for increased export capacity and infrastrucure. We encourage all concerned citizens to remain updated and engaged in this issue as state and federal agencies continue to make important decisions on the proposed export terminals over the next few years.
What's happening now?
We encourage concerned citizens to voice their concerns about each proposed export project to their local elected officials and state representatives, requesting consideration for the potential threats this traffic could impose on communities like Sandpoint. These considerations are documented in reports called Environmental Impact Statements or EISs. Instead of site-specific EISs that would analyze only the impacts to the terminal community or mining site, LPOW advocates for comprehensive, programmatic EISs that consider all impacts of increased rail traffic on all communities from mine to port.
The considerations and public concerns documented in EISs are collected through designated public comment periods for each proposed project, a process called "scoping". Over the last two years, public involvement in the scoping process and the review of Draft Environment Impact Statements has been instrumental in shelving or revoking 3 of the original 6 export facility proposals. Continued involvement is still needed to ensure that the voice of our rail-side communities is heard. Please stay tuned to LPOW's Take Action page to learn about any upcoming advocacy opportunities.
A summary of active proposals is included below for online viewing or download.
Gateway Pacific Terminal and the Millennium Bulk proposal
As of fall 2015, two projects are still on the table in Washington state; the Gateway Pacific Terminal in Cherry Point near Bellingham, and the Millennium Bulk proposal in Longview. The Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) is still being prepared for the Gateway Pacific proposal and is expected out within the first half of 2016. WA state has determined they will consider out-of-state impacts in the DEIS. Unfortunately, the Army Corp has taken a very narrow focus and will only consider facility-specific impacts (those affecting the areas immediately surrounding the shipping terminal itself).
The DEIS for the Millennium Bulk proposal is also in progress and should be expected in early 2016. Following the release of this DEIS, there will be a public review process that will include another opportunity to submit public comments. We encourage citizens of all impacted communities to stay tuned and to provide comments during the review of the Millennium Bulk DEIS.
When each DEIS is released, we'll publicize any related review processes and public comment opportunities on our Take Action page.
Meanwhile, in Montana...
While a great deal of focus has been on the port facilities, in Montana there is a key piece of rail infrastructure coined the Tongue River Railroad that is often overlooked. If built, this line would connect Otter Creek, a proposed new mine, to the main rail line heading to all ports in Oregon and Washington. The Surface Transportation Board (STB) is the regulatory agency charged with permitting this infrastructure. Unlike the Army Corps of Engineers, who has refused to consider rail impacts beyond the ports themselves, the STB agreed to consider down-line rail impacts of carrying such large amounts of coal (as much as 7 – 14 days trains a day headed to the ports.) The DEIS for this project was released in April 2015, with the public comment period closing in October 2015. Stay tuned for the outcome of the DEIS review and any new developments in this story.
The Montana Department of Environmental Quality has also begun the DEIS for Otter Creek Mine, the proposed mining site to be serviced by the Tongue River Railroad. We expect to see this DEIS in early 2016 and will publicize any related review processes and public comment opportunities under our Take Action page.