Regulators in Washington state dealt a potentially lethal blow Tuesday to a coal export proposal in the Pacific Northwest, denying the project a water quality permit needed to move forward.
“After extensive study and deliberation, I am denying Millennium’s proposed coal export project,” Washington Department of Ecology Director Maia Bellon said in a press statement. “There are simply too many unavoidable and negative environmental impacts for the project to move forward.”
If built, the coal export terminal — which would have been located along the Columbia River in Longview, two hours north of Portland, Oregon — would have been the largest coal export facility in North America, with capacity for moving 44 million metric tons of coal annually. An environmental impact study released by the Washington Department of Ecology found that the project would have resulted in an additional 7.6 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent over a 20-year period — roughly equivalent to adding eight million passenger vehicles to the road.
The terminal was first proposed in 2010, as part of a slew of proposals for export terminals from companies like Arch Coal, Ambre Energy, and Peabody Energy. At the time, economic growth in Asian markets was expected to drive a 40 percent increase in global coal consumption by 2030, and coal companies eyed the ports of the Pacific Northwest as the fastest — and cheapest — route from the Power River Basin in Wyoming and Montana to overseas markets. Since then, however, a global decline in coal consumption, combined with stiff opposition from local Pacific Northwest communities, has resulted in nearly every proposed project being either denied by regulators or abandoned by its backers. The Longview project is currently the last remaining proposal on the West Coast.
“This a major victory for activists who have been fighting for seven years to stop the coal export terminal in Longview,” Jasmine Zimmer-Stucky, senior organizer with Columbia Riverkeeper, told ThinkProgress. “Today’s victory came after 260,000 public comments were submitted in opposition to this permit, and it’s a relief to know that agencies are responding to not only overwhelming opposition from the public but also their own facts and their own science.”
This is not the first time that a Washington state regulatory body has denied a key permit in the Longview project. Earlier this year, the Washington Department of Natural Resources rejected the developer’s request to lease land necessary to construct a dock between the terminal and the Columbia River, on the grounds that the developer had failed to answer questions about the structure of the dock as well as questions about the overall financial viability of the project. The rejection came almost one year after Arch Coal, a minority stakeholder in the project, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy due to declining coal production. Millennium Bulk Terminals, the project’s developer, is currently challenging the Department of Natural Resource’s decision to a state superior court.
Millennium can also choose to appeal today’s rejection of the water quality permit, though Seattle-based Earthjustice attorney Jan Hasselman noted that it would likely be an uphill battle for the company. The Department of Ecology found that the project would cause significant and unavoidable harm in nine environmental areas, meaning that a court would have to rule in Millennium’s favor on each of the nine independent areas to overturn the denial.
“I think this really ends the conversation around coal export, and it ends it with a firm punctuation mark that these are bad choices for our region,” Hasselman said. “They harm people, they harm water quality, they don’t make sense.”