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July 31, 2013 at 11:12 AM

State to study ‘broad range’ of impacts of proposed coal trains

Before deciding whether to approve a proposal that would send many more coal trains through Washington, the state Department of Ecology plans to consider how rail travel in and out of the state would be affected and even how the burning of the coal in Asia would impact the climate, according to a decision released Wednesday.

That’s a much broader scope than the federal U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which has announced it will study only “on-site and nearby impacts” of the proposed Gateway Pacific Terminal in Whatcom County.

At full capacity, the terminal could export 48 million metric tons per year of coal and could generate 18 train trips per day, according to the state.

The Ecology Department and Army Corps are working with the county to produce a joint Environmental Impact Statement on the project. That study, which is expected to take two years, will play a large role in determining whether the government approves the project.

On Wednesday, environmentalists praised the state for its thoroughness while supporters of the proposal complained that the decision would set a new precedent that would make it harder for projects in the future.

“This is not about one town or city, one philosophy or policy framework, it is about a systems approach to an international issue,” wrote state Rep. Reuven Carlyle, D-Seattle, in a blog post. “Proponents and opponents should not fear a robust public process and examination.”

“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,” said Lauri Hennessey, a spokeswoman for the Alliance for Northwest Jobs & Exports. “This decision has the potential to alter the Northwest’s long and historic commitment to expanding trade, which today supports 4 in every 10 jobs in Washington state.”

County, state and federal officials considered some 125,000 public comments during a four-month comment period before arriving at their scoping determinations.

The county and state are required to follow the State Environmental Policy Act, while the feds must follow the National Environmental Policy Act.

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