Two federal agencies have expressed concerns about a proposed oil-by-rail terminal on the Columbia River, but the companies behind the plan say they believe they can address them.
VANCOUVER, Wash. — Environmentalists opposed to the construction of the nation’s largest oil-by-rail terminal on the Columbia River in Vancouver say it could be a “game-changer” that two federal agencies have recently expressed concerns about the project, but the companies behind the plan say they believe they can address them.
In a letter last week, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said the plans for the terminal do not comply with the federal Clean Water Act, and that a key permit for the project should be withheld until its risks are addressed, The Columbian newspaper reported. The National Park Service sent its own letter citing concerns just days earlier.
“I think that this could be a game-changer,” said Lauren Goldberg, staff attorney Columbia Riverkeeper, an organization opposed to the project. “I think the fact that two other federal agencies are weighing in with significant concerns … should and will change the discussion around how the federal government is going to decide whether to issue permits or not.”
Tesoro Corp. and Savage Cos. hope to build a terminal that would handle an average of 360,000 barrels of crude oil per day. The oil would arrive by rail and leave by ship.
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The Army Corps of Engineers is considering whether to grant a key permit for work to be done in the river. In its letter, the EPA raised numerous concerns, including the risk of oil spills, and said proposed mitigation measures “may not be adequate.” It also noted that the potential impact area for the project includes nearly 1,500 miles of railroad track in Washington, as well as the entire Columbia River downstream of Vancouver and marine areas off the coast.
The National Park Service also expressed worries about natural and cultural sites — including Fort Vancouver National Historic Site — along the route that would carry oil to and from the Vancouver terminal. The park service also raised concerns about climate change and suggested emissions from the facility could accelerate the loss of glaciers at Glacier National Park in Montana.
The companies plan to address the concerns during an ongoing state review of the project, said Tesoro spokeswoman Jennifer Minx.
“We are confident that the proposed terminal can be designed, constructed and operated in a safe and environmentally responsible manner,” Minx said in an email.
The Tesoro-Savage terminal would receive crude from the Bakken oil fields of North Dakota. As many as four full trains would arrive per day. The oil would then be transferred to ships and sent down the Columbia River en route to other West Coast facilities.
The project is being reviewed by the state Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council. That panel will make a recommendation to Washington’s governor, who holds the final say on a permit. But there are other jurisdictions — including the Corps of Engineers — that must issue permits along the way for the terminal to be built.