The Daily News (Longview) – Initial thoughts

The Daily News Longview | May 3, 2017

Millennium Bulk Terminals’ final state environmental impact statement was issued last Friday and we have some initial thoughts to share. Our view can be summarized in one word – disappointing.

After five years and $15 million, the final state EIS is disappointing because it appears the state has strayed from its mission. It’s not the state’s job to pick a side during the permitting process of any business, but it certainly looks like it did on the Millennium project.

From the start of the permitting process, the state Department of Ecology was against the Millennium project. Anytime it takes five years to get a final environmental impact statement completed it’s pretty clear the state dragged its feet at every turn.

In addition to the extended time frame, another example of the state working against the Millennium project was the scope. The initial scope of the environmental assessment changed after the process started. In other words, after agreeing on the scope of the examination, the state changed the rules in the middle of the game.

We’ve heard many times over how the Millennium project went against some people’s morals. But morals are not what the state is supposed to analyze. The Department of Ecology’s job is to ensure any project undertaken in our state meets established laws — and the Millennium project does.

What happens when a project meets the standard of law but the state doesn’t want it? Delay, change, obfuscate and even bash the project via social media.

We thought one of the most telling things the state did in this project came via Twitter last Friday, the day the final EIS was issued.

Ecology tweeted out to its followers, “Key finding: Trains to increase diesel emissions & increase cancer risk rates in nearby Highlands neighborhood. #MillenniumCoal.”

Why did Ecology tweet this? Is it because they want to find any way possible to stop the Millennium project?

But even more disconcerting is that the state Department of Ecology clearly doesn’t care if everyone knows it is trying to scuttle the project, in fact, with tweets like this, it is flaunting it.

The final EIS is an 11,000 page report, so we spent the last several days pouring over it. What we found after just an initial review was clear evidence to back our belief the state has treated Millennium differently than other companies seeking permits.

What other business has been asked to mitigate the carbon emissions of other companies? What other business has been asked to mitigate for carbon emissions across the globe in other countries?

Can you imagine the impact to the Puget Sound Region if Boeing had to mitigate the carbon emissions from the production of the carbon fiber used in its planes all the way through to the emissions from the jet fuel used by commercial airlines? This is exactly what the state is trying to do to Millennium and we believe it’s wrong.

In addition to being told they must mitigate the carbon emissions from other companies, extending all the way to when the coal is burned on the other side of the world, Ecology decided to double the amount of carbon remediation Millennium would be responsible for.

The draft copy of the EIS called for Millennium to mitigate 50 percent of the carbon emissions from building and operating the plant. This includes from when the coal is mined to when it’s burned in Asia.

The final EIS states, “The Applicant will prepare a greenhouse gas mitigation plan that mitigates for 100 percent of the greenhouse gas emissions identified in the 2015 U.S. and international Energy Policy scenario.”

The difference from the draft EIS to final report is also dramatic as it relates to rail traffic. The Ecology tweet mentioned earlier related to increased risk of cancer for people living near the rail line. The draft EIS said very little about required mitigation from rail traffic and nothing about increased cancer risk from train traffic.

The final EIS assumes a 3 percent increase in cancer risk from train trips. The final EIS compares rail traffic to diesel truck traffic. The comparison seems overstated and could create a huge problem for Burlington Northern Sante Fe.

The final EIS compares diesel train exhaust to diesel truck exhaust saying, “The increased risk of 30 cancers per million at 0.25 mile from the Reynolds Lead and BNSF Spur (a 7.1-mile segment of rail line) resulting from the locomotive emissions from 16 Proposed Action-related train trips per day would be equivalent to the increased risk resulting from the emissions from approximately 1,100 diesel truck trips per day along the same segment (i.e., 23 trucks per hour travelling in each direction).”

What Ecology has just done is equate 16 train trips a day (eight trains in and eight trains out) to 1,100 truck trips or about 23 diesel trucks per hour running in both directions.

Is Ecology now going after BNSF too? If 16 rail trips over a 7-mile stretch increases cancer risk by 3 percent, how can the state allow BNSF to drive trains through Kelso dozens of times each week?

We are going to continue to dig into the details of Millennium’s final EIS, but our initial thought is the state of Washington will not let this project get permitted.

Even if it does meet the legal guidelines.