Backers of Longview coal export terminal lonely in Tacoma at 5th and final hearing

Staff writerOctober 17, 2013 

Hundreds of red-shirted opponents of a coal-export facility in Longview packed a hearing in Tacoma Thursday, concerned about local and global spin-off effects of the project.

The “scoping” hearing was the fifth and final one in a series of meetings held around the state. Opponents have dominated all of them.

By now they have a well-practiced routine, waving signs, handing out free T-shirts and rallying around a 12-foot inflated globe and giant salmon puppets.  

In Tacoma, City Council member Ryan Mello was head cheerleader at a pre-hearing rally next to the Tacoma Convention and Trade Center where the 5 p.m. hearing took place.

“Together we’re going to say no to those coal trains,” Mello said. “No matter where these terminals are, they’re going to hurt Tacoma. Coal trains rumbling right through our great city would hurt our economy, and I think we can do better.”

Except, no one has proposed that loaded coal trains will travel through Tacoma or Olympia.

The proposed plan is for the loaded cars to travel west to Longview through the Columbia Gorge. But opponents worry empties will return to mines in Montana and Wyoming through South Sound cities. They argue that the Environmental Impact Statement on the project should take a broad view, considering impacts far from terminal.

Proponents of the project, about 100 of the 800 who attended, generally argue for a more limited scoping process. They say the project would provide hundreds of jobs and boost the economy across the state.

Mark Martinez, executive secretary of the Pierce County Building & Construction Trades Council, was one of few people who testified in favor of the project.

He supports it because it will create jobs, he said.

“These are not the sexy, so-called ‘green’ jobs that everybody thinks they want,” Martinez said. “They are old-fashioned, middle-class jobs that people can use to support families.”

The project is being proposed by Millennium Bulk Terminals, a subsidiary of Ambre Energy North America and Arch Coal. It would build a coal export terminal at the site of the former Reynolds Aluminum smelter, outside Longview in Cowlitz County.

Millennium has said the terminal would ultimately export as much as 50 million tons of coal annually. At least initially, the coal would travel primarily from mines in Montana and Wyoming and be transported by rail through the Columbia Gorge. Most would be sold to China.

Ken Miller, the president and CEO of Millennium Bulk Terminals, didn’t testify at the hearing, but he made remarks at a brief rally and press conference on the steps of the convention center before the hearing started.

Miller rejected the notion that building the Longview terminal and shipping coal from Washington would have an effect on global warming or on the decision by China and Third World countries to use coal as a primary source of energy.

“This project is not the reason power plants are being built in Asia,” Miller said.  “In the year 2000, Asia consumed 2 billion tons of coal. In 2010 it was 5 billion tons. In the next several years we will see the use of coal continuing to increase, in the order of at least another billion tons.”

That’s going to happen whether or not the coal comes through Washington, he said.

“Coal suppliers around the world are seeing this demand and trying to meet it,” Miller said.

Miller acknowledged coal-fired power plants might be contributing to global warming, but he said the positive effects of providing electricity more than compensate for the effects of carbon emissions. 

“I feel what we’re doing for people in poverty with electricity is a higher need,” he said.

Thursday’s hearing was part of the initial phase of preparing an environmental impact statement on the project under the state’s environmental policy act.

The Washington Department of Ecology and Cowlitz County will guide the preparation of the EIS, which will then be used to decide whether or not to grant permits to proceed.

During this “scoping” phase, the agencies are in a listening mode, using public comments to decide the range of topics that will be included in the EIS.

Meetings also have been held in Longview, Spokane, Pasco and Vancouver, Wash.

Hundreds of people have attended the meetings, and thousands have submitted written testimony during the process.

According to Department of Ecology spokeswoman Linda Kent, a total 50,000 comments have been received so far.

The scoping period is open for public comment until Nov. 18

Rob Carson: 253-597-8693

rob.carson@thenewstribune.com

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