“There are simply too many unavoidable and negative environmental impacts for the project to move forward,” said state Ecology Director Maia Bellon about the proposed Longview terminal.
The Washington State Department of Ecology has denied a key permit for the Millennium Bulk Terminals in Longview, a decision that if it withstands appeal would kill the last remaining proposal in the state to export Western coal to Asia.
The department denied the permit, citing nine problem areas, including rail safety, air pollution, noise pollution and tribal resources. “There are simply too many unavoidable and negative environmental impacts for the project to move forward,” Ecology Director Maia Bellon, said in a statement Tuesday.
The terminal developers have proposed to move as much as 44 million metric tons of coal annually — to arrive daily in up to 16 trains, each more than a mile long — through Cowlitz County. It would be the largest coal-export terminal in North America.
The department’s decision denies Millennium a state water-quality permit needed to fill 24 acres of wetlands and dredge 41.5 acres of the Columbia’s riverbed, according to the department statement.
Bellon, in an interview with reporters, said the denial was based on a broader evaluation of the project’s impact, including on water quality.
The decision was denounced by Millennium President William Chapman, who accused the Ecology Department of ignoring “decades of law” in rejecting that permit and the need for employment in Cowlitz County.
“We remain confident in our judicial system where the facts will be interpreted in an unbiased manner and this water-quality certification will be granted,” Chapman said in a statement from Millennium.
The project would invest $680 million in Cowlitz County and generate $5.4 million in state and local taxes when in operation, according to the developer. It has the backing of western coal states as well support in Washington that includes business groups and labor unions that accused the state of acting in bad faith.
“There are no guarantees in life, but you would expect the state to live up to its end of the deal in something like this by running a fair and timely process,’’ said Lee Newgent, executive secretary of the Washington State Building & Construction Trades Council.
But the project has run into economic challenges as the price coal can fetch in Asia has dropped due to slackening demand. Also, Northwest environmentalists fiercely oppose the project, railing against the prospect of increased coal-train traffic through the region, and exporting a fossil fuel that emits greenhouse gases.
“The Pacific Northwest will not be a hub for the global trade in dirty fossil fuels. It is not who we are,” said Jan Hasselman, an Earthjustice attorney who represented a coalition of environmental groups in litigationover the project. “The conversation about coal export from the Pacific Northwest is over.”
Last year, a separate project to build a coal-export terminal at Cherry Point, in Whatcom County, was denied a federal Army Corps of Engineers permit, a decision based on protection of tribal treaty fishing rights.