Oil dock rejection sends message to ‘big oil’

No one should be surprised by Gov. Jay Inslee’s decision this week to reject permits for Vancouver Energy’s oil-transport dock along the Columbia River. That was a fair decision at this point.

The state Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council earlier had unanimously rejected the rail and ship dock last November. It cited risks that included the potential for spill damage to the river.

It had been up to Inslee to accept or reject the council’s decision to reject the permit. He went with the board’s recommendation while noting in a letter to EFSEC that the panel had additionally identified seismic risks that were not adequately addressed. Inslee added that “emergency responders are unlikely to be able to successfully respond to a major incident at the facility.”

Vancouver Energy, which is a joint venture of Texas-based Tesoro Refining and the Savage Companies, has said the oil would be shipped by water to refineries along the West Coast. Supplying the ships would require more oil-by-rail tanker traffic through our state from the Bakken Fields in North Dakota. About 360,000 barrels of oil were proposed for transport by rail to the Port of Vancouver site.

But, what part of this project, we must ask, makes it worth our state’s while to risk the Columbia River’s health?

The energy council’s decision, backed by Inslee, was the latest state regulatory action to deny or slow a fossil fuel export facility in Washington. Backers of coal export docks near Ferndale and Longview have struggled to obtain permits and commence work, and they have chafed at the state Department of Ecology’s inclusion of eventual carbon emissions from exported coal in its environmental impact analysis.

Other groups that include a coalition of business and labor interests that support the coal docks have complained that Washington is too demanding in its regulation of new energy infrastructure projects.

Some of those same interests have stood solidly against carbon taxes on fossil fuels in this state and generally insisted market forces are enough to reduce the state’s carbon footprint.

But it hard to see industry taking seriously the environmental costs that accompany the use of fossil fuels – whether it is rising sea levels, changes in ocean alkalinity, wetter winters, drier forests vulnerable to fire, or other challenges such as oil spills.

State law gives the Vancouver Energy developers 30 days to appeal. Spokesmen for the project had said in November the state’s board was setting an “impossibly” high standard for safety.

This regulatory complaint brings to mind that in the late 1990s our state saw timber, fishing, tribal and government interests come together on a 20-year plan to stabilize regulations affecting forests and fish. Environmentalists protested, but this meeting of the minds resulted in larger stream buffers and predictable limits on forestry practices.

If the fossil fuel industry wants to play in this state and do it by 21st century rules that acknowledge the dangers of climate change, we suggest it look for ways to meet legitimate environmental concerns head-on.

Perhaps there are ways to protect the environment long term and also provide more predictable regulations. So far we’ve seen no reaching out and now a carbon tax initiative in the works for the November ballot.