Cowlitz County and the Washington Department of Ecology have completed their environmental review for the largest proposed coal export terminal in North America.
The in-depth report details how the proposed Millennium Bulk Terminals project near Longview in Cowlitz County would cause numerous impacts to the environment, local neighborhoods, and transportation. It also identifies potential mitigation measures to reduce some, but not all of the impacts.
The coal terminal would move 44 million metric tons of coal annually, add 16 more trains daily through the local area, and increase Columbia River ship transits in and out of Cowlitz County by 1,680 annually.
“We spent the bulk of our time and effort really focusing on the potential impacts to the local community where impacts would be greatest,” said Elaine Placido, Building and Planning director for Cowlitz County. “We received an unprecedented 267,000 comments, so it was clear to us that people are really interested in this project.”
Officially known as the Environmental Impact Statement, the report is not a decision or permit. It uses scientific methods, computer models, and the best available data to provide information and analyses. The report will be used by the public and the 10 agencies that will consider the more than 20 permits needed for the coal terminal.
The report evaluates 23 environmental areas, with adverse impacts in 19 of them. Impacts include filling wetlands, dredging riverbed, injuring fish, and creating pollution from greenhouse gas emissions. It also identifies unavoidable impacts in nine areas: air quality, vehicle traffic, vessel traffic, rail capacity, rail safety, noise pollution, social and community resources, cultural resources, and tribal resources.
Some key findings in the final report include:
- Increased locomotive diesel particulate matter, a toxic air pollutant, is expected to cause an unavoidable increase in cancer risk rates in a neighborhood along the rail line in Longview.
- Slow-moving, 1.3-mile-long trains could cause traffic jams during peak commute times in Cowlitz County.
- Environmental modeling found that the amount of coal dust deposited along train tracks and at the proposed terminal would not exceed air quality standards for human health.
- Transporting, handling, and burning the coal overseas is projected to increase global greenhouse gas emissions by about 2 million metric tons. The final study proposes mitigation for the full increase.
Along with taking a hard look at the environmental impacts from the project, the report also identifies 30 potential steps to offset or reduce impacts. These include mitigation plans for wetlands and greenhouse gas emissions, underwater noise controls, and fish and plant studies.
“This comprehensive study is now a resource for future decision-makers, the public and Millennium,” said Sally Toteff, director of Ecology’s Southwest Region. “The study will inform local, state, and federal agencies that will be acting on Millennium's permit applications.”
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is expected to issue its own federal Environmental Impact Statement later in 2017.