On Tuesday, the Washington Department of Ecology announced an agreement with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to jointly oversee the preparation of an environmental impact statement (“EIS”) for Millenium Coal’s proposal to develop a coal export terminal at the site of a former aluminum smelter in Longview, Washington. This MOU comes on the heels of a previous agreement between Ecology and Cowlitz County, where those two agencies agreed to be co-lead agencies under Washington’s State Environmental Policy Act (“SEPA”). With this MOU in place, the Corps, County, and Ecology will be able to coordinate environmental review under SEPA and its federal counterpart, the National Environmental Policy Act (“NEPA”) by preparing a single EIS addressing the requirements under state and federal law. The first step in preparing the EIS will be determining the scope of the EIS, and the three agencies will soon be seeking public comment on the following as part of that scoping process :

  • A reasonable range of alternatives for the proposals.
  • Potentially affected resources and the extent to which the EIS should analyze those resources.
  • Identifying significant unavoidable adverse impacts.
  • Measures to avoid, minimize and mitigate effects caused by the proposals.

My guess is that this scoping process will be one of the most heavily-commented on NEPA/SEPA scoping exercises ever in Washington. The coal export terminal issue in Washington is the frappuccino of environmental issues in the Pacific Northwest: a blend of global warming concerns, transboundary concerns (the coal is being exported to Asia), and even local concerns such as dust emissions from coal trains. These concerns are counterbalanced by the need for jobs not only in Washington but also the need for jobs in Montana and Wyoming where the coal is sourced, and the reality that Asia will likely use dirtier coal from Russia if these types of terminals are not built–potentially increasing China’s impacts on West Coast air quality in the process.

This particular project has had a bumpy start. It had made progress into the permitting and review process until internal project proponent documents were produced that indicated that the eventual terminal capacity was planned at 60 million tons rather than the 6 million tons disclosed in permit applications. National media coverage like this New York Times article is rarely a good thing for these types of controversial projects, and I’m sure the contents of these internal documents caused the project proponent’s lawyers to slap their foreheads in frustration more than once . . .

Given this snafu, and given the scrutiny that is being placed on the project, I’d anticipate that this project will result in new NEPA/SEPA caselaw as it winds its way through the inevitable appeals process. More information on the project can be found on Ecology’s website, and this is definitely a project to watch as it moves forward.