The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Washington State Department of Ecology will conduct separate reviews of proposals to expand state coal exports – not the joint reviews that had been planned, both agencies announced Friday.
The decision to separate the reviews is in some ways not surprising, since the agencies have staked out different criteria in determining whether to approve a proposed export terminal at Cherry Point, near Bellingham: The feds say they will only consider the impacts on the area immediately surrounding the proposed Gateway Pacific Terminal, while the state says it will factor in everything from how more trains would affect cities on the rail route to how burning coal in Asia affects the environment.
The Cherry Point plan, which would export up to 48 million tons of coal a year to Asia, is one of two proposals in Washington working through a long approval process. The other is proposed for Longview.
Still, the decision marks a reversal and highlights the gulf between the two reviews.
“Based on the difference of that review scope, it made sense to separate it out into two documents,” said Patricia Graesser, a spokeswoman in the Corps’ Seattle office, although she added that the two reviews will be conducted collaboratively.
Supporters of the proposals praised the separation of reviews, framing it as an indication of the inappropriateness of the state’s broad review, which is unprecedented in scope.
“What more evidence do we need that Ecology was way out on a limb with its interpretation of environmental policies?” said Herb Krohn, Washington state legislative director for the United Transportation Union. “The Corps doesn’t want to be attached to that, to no one’s surprise. We have only been asking for a fair review, a fair time frame, and a fair sense of urgency so we can create these jobs and help our economy. We applaud the Corps’ decision.”
Opponents, on the other hand, said it is in the state’s interest to conduct as broad a review as possible.
“It only makes sense to conduct a comprehensive review that includes impacts on our health and climate change,” said Brendon Cechovic, executive director of Washington Conservative Voters. “There is a reason why the coal companies don’t want us to study these things.”