News since the start of the year has not been good for proponents of fossil-fuel terminals in our region. There are lessons to be learned from this experience.
Early this month, Washington state Public Lands Commissioner Peter Goldmark denied a key lease for the proposed Millennium Bulk Terminals coal export facility in Longview. This wasn’t necessarily the last nail in the project’s coffin, but it further weakened the economic arguments for a plan already on shaky ground.
And last week, the Washington State Supreme Court issued a ruling that effectively blocks a crude-by-rail terminal in Hoquiam on Grays Harbor. The ruling was based on a state law that places a top priority on making sure the coastline is safe from catastrophic environmental damage. The ruling was celebrated by the Quinault Indian Nation and fishing groups.
“This is a strong decision protecting and preserving coastal communities now and into the future,” said Dale Beasley of Ilwaco, president of the Coalition of Coastal Fisheries, a group that includes fishermen, oyster growers, and charter boat operators. “Today’s decision gives commercial fishermen another handle to protect our livelihoods.”
These decisions have direct implications for communities on both sides of the Columbia River and on Oregon’s North Coast. Commercial fishermen have been worried about the potential for oil spills that could decimate their industry. At a recent meeting with newly elected Washington State Rep. Jim Walsh, Lower Columbia fishermen said they were equally worried about the Longview coal terminal — which might result in coal-particulate pollution and increase the potential for shipping accidents. Tourism, home values, and recreational and commercial shellfish harvesting also would be endangered by fossil-fuel pollution.
Supporters of these projects point to job creation, society’s continuing need for energy and the generally good safety records of railways and ocean-going ships. The Longview terminal, by providing a cost-effective way to export Powder River Basin coal to Asia, would bolster coal-state economies and improve the U.S. trade balance sheet.
Ramping up U.S. energy development is a major priority of President-elect Donald Trump — a way of firing up the national economy while continuing to increase our independence on oil imports. Based partly on this promise, the coal states of Wyoming and West Virginia provided Trump’s largest winning margins — 68 to 22 percent and 68 to 26 percent, respectively.
The Washington state terminal decisions suggest limits to Trump’s ability to deliver. This doesn’t mean his administration won’t try. The federal legal arsenal includes a variety of tools designed to keep states from interfering with national policies, including the possibility of coercive measures like tying federal aid to compliance with federal wishes.
The West Coast states have been described as the “Thin Green Line” blocking coal and other carbon fuels from reaching purchasers and, ultimately, the atmosphere in the form of greenhouse gases. Citizens of our states are far from united on this position.
In our area, however, no matter our individual feelings about U.S. energy policies, we should be united in defending our long-established industries that rely on pure water.