Topic: coal trains
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November 21, 2013 at 4:25 PM
Former Attorney General Rob McKenna has written a letter to Washington state on behalf of Montana and North Dakota that questions the constitutionality of Washington’s Department of Ecology review of a proposed coal-export terminal.
“Some of the issues to be evaluated by Ecology transgress the boundaries of the States, infringing on (Montana and North Dakota’s) sovereignty,” McKenna wrote in a letter sent Monday, adding the review “ranges far beyond the boundaries of legitimate state interest.”
He also wrote that the review of the proposed Gateway Terminal at Cherry Point, in Whatcom County, “is unrealistically broad, includes speculative impacts, requires impossible assessments of foreign environmental impacts, and appears to have been designed to hinder the development of that terminal.”
The nine-page letter marks a surprising entrance by McKenna into the fight over coal exports, which was a major issue in his unsuccessful 2012 bid for governor against Jay Inslee.
During the campaign, McKenna voiced support for coal-export terminals, but said any proposals would have to undergo a thorough environmental review.
Washington state’s review is one of three under way for the proposed Cherry Point facility, which would create the largest coal-export terminal on the West Coast, shipping as much as 48 million tons of Montana and Wyoming coal to Asia. The other reviews are being done by the federal government and Whatcom County.
Washington state has said its review will be much broader than the other two.
All three entities will get a say in whether the terminal is built, and each is to base its decision on its own review.
The letter was sent because Washington state is now deciding the breadth of a review of a second proposed coal terminal, in Longview.
Montana and North Dakota, McKenna wrote, would like Washington state to take a more limited approach to reviewing the proposed Longview terminal.
In a post on his website, Montana Attorney General Tim Fox said he is interested in the issue because “access to overseas markets is vital to Montana’s economy.”
McKenna’s letter was topped by letterhead from the international law firm Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe. McKenna became a partner there in February, a few months after losing the governor’s race.
On Thursday, environmentalists criticized McKenna for getting involved on behalf of entities supporting coal.
“It’s hard to believe that Rob McKenna is opposing Washington’s efforts to keep dirty coal out of our communities,” said Collin Jergens, spokesman for the liberal group Fuse Washington. “Why is Rob McKenna fighting for North Dakota instead of Washington?”
McKenna did not immediately respond to telephone messages seeking comment.
November 5, 2013 at 7:11 AM
Update 9:57 p.m.
Whatcom County voters appeared to send a message against coal trains in Tuesday’s election.
All four county-council candidates who are believed to oppose a controversial proposed coal-export facility there were leading in competitive council races — including two challengers who looked to be on their way to toppling incumbents.
Challengers Barry Buchanan and Rud Browne took 55 percent and 54 percent of the first votes, respectively. Two incumbents thought to oppose the proposal, Carl Weimer and Ken Mann, were at 57 percent and 56 percent over their opponents .
The council is currently seen as slightly favorable to the facility, so flipping the two seats could make a difference if the proposal comes up in the future.
The initial returns included more than 41,000 votes.
The election was widely seen as a referendum on the proposal — even though none of the candidates disclosed positions on it, citing the quasi-judicial duties of the council.
Proposal supporters and opponents gave hundreds of thousands of dollars to the elections.
Environmentalists gave to the quartet that won, while coal companies sought to help four others — incumbents Kathy Kershner and Bill Knutzen and challengers Ben Elenbaas and Michelle Luke.
Update 8:30 p.m.
Whatcom County voters appeared to be sending a message against coal trains in early election returns.
All four county council candidates who are thought to oppose a controversial coal terminal were leading in early returns.
The two incumbents in that quartet, Carl Weimer and Ken Mann, were at 57 percent and 56 percent, respectively. The two challengers, Barry Buchanan and Rud Browne, were at 55 percent and 54 percent.
Whatcom County voters today will decide four County Council seats, in an election widely seen as a referendum on a proposed coal-export facility at Cherry Point, which would be the largest terminal facility of its kind on the West Coast.
The proposal is believed to be favored by four, and maybe five, of the seven members of the nonpartisan council. So environmentalists are trying to flip one or two seats, and the coal companies are trying to stop them.
Four incumbents are up for re-election; two are believed to support the proposal, and two are believed to oppose it.
The word “believed” is necessary because of one more quirk in this unusual election: In largely rural Whatcom County, council members have quasi-judicial duties and are supposed to remain impartial about matters that might come before them in the future.
Nonetheless, supporters and opponents of the proposal each dumped hundreds of thousands of dollars into the election.
Two political groups financed mostly by environmentalists spent about half a million dollars on behalf of incumbents Ken Mann and Carl Weimer and challengers Rud Browne and Barry Buchanan — a quartet thought to oppose the proposal.
Coal and energy companies, meanwhile, sponsored a local group that raised nearly $200,000 to support incumbents Kathy Kershner and Bill Knutzen and challengers Ben Elenbaas and Michelle Luke — thought to be favorable to the idea.
October 9, 2013 at 8:32 AM
Update, 1:45 p.m. on Oct. 10:
The Alliance for Northwest Jobs & Exports has issued the following statement:
“The statements made by the individual in the recording do not reflect the values or the views of the Alliance or its members. As companies and members of the community, who operate and have employees in this region, we’re committed to a respectful and productive dialogue with the citizens of Washington and of the Northwest around these issues.
“It’s unfortunate that a blogger would eavesdrop on a private conversation rather than conducting a straight-forward interview. The Alliance welcomes a robust and straight-forward discussion on these issues. We support the expansion of ports because it will increase our trade with Asia and grow our economy. Investment from coal makes this expansion of trade possible, and American coal will continue to be an important fuel source for this country and the world for the foreseeable future.”
A top spokeswoman for the push to expand Washington state coal exports joked about Seattle in a private discussion about strategy with a boss last month, according to a recording published this week.
The spokeswoman, Lauri Hennessey, apparently told Arch Coal senior vice president Matt Ferguson that the Seattle area is “so weird” and called the situation here “wacky.”
She also said that somebody from Peabody Energy once scolded her for telling a Seattle journalist that the coal companies are concerned about climate change.
Arch Coal and Peabody Energy are among several companies pushing for a trio of proposals to expand coal exports from the Pacific Northwest to Asia. In Washington state, terminals have been proposed for Cherry Point in Whatcom County and Longview in Cowlitz County.
Hennessy, vice president at Edelman and spokeswoman for the Alliance for Northwest Jobs & Exports, was apparently recorded last month at Platt’s 36th Annual Coal Marketing Days in Philadelphia.
The recorded exchange between industry insiders was not particularly groundbreaking. Still, local environmental groups pounced on the recording.
“Who is coal flack Lauri Hennessey and why should be we believe anything she says?,” wrote Richard Ellmeyer in an email to supporters. “We SHOULDN’T.”
October 8, 2013 at 5:58 PM
In another measure of the ideological tightness of Seattle’s “me too” mayoral race, state Sen. Ed Murray called a news conference Tuesday to point out he totally agrees with Mayor Mike McGinn on opposition to coal trains rolling through the city.
Seeking to rebut what he called a “whispering campaign” by McGinn forces, Murray said notwithstanding campaign cash he’s received from some pro-coal train businesses, he’s against the trains, which coal opponents say would disrupt traffic and send coal dust spraying into air and water — in addition to abetting global climate change.
It’s an issue that McGinn has elevated to a top-tier priority in his mayoral campaign. Murray has been more muted on the topic; hence Tuesday’s news conference in which he tried to put to rest doubts about where he stands.
“I have been, since the first day I announced in December, opposed to these coal trains, despite the information you might have gotten from — I guess you could call it the office of misinformation — the McGinn campaign,” Murray said at the news conference next to the train tracks on the downtown Seattle waterfront. As if to reinforce his point about the disruption more trains would cause, Murray’s event was interrupted twice by passing trains at the nearby railroad crossing.
September 6, 2013 at 3:59 PM
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.”
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