By JOEL MILLMAN And KRIS MAHER
LONGVIEW, Wash.—A battle over a proposed coal export terminal on the Columbia River has taken on a global dimension, as opponents say local officials have to consider the potential environmental harm when the U.S. fuel is burned at its destination—in China.
Making this argument is “a core strategy in the fight against a huge expansion of the fossil-fuel economy,” said Ross Macfarlane of Seattle-based Climate Solutions, one of the groups that want the terminal project stopped.
Terminal critics also say the potential environmental damage from mining the material in Montana and Wyoming hasn’t been adequately assessed.
Melissa Wilkie questioned Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer at a meeting last month in Kelso, Wash., about possible coal shipments from Montana to China through a new terminal in Longview, Wash.
Local officials reject both arguments. “Environmental groups are treading new ground here, there is no guidance from the state of Washington on how to approach this,” said Mike Wojtowicz, an official in Cowlitz County, which gave construction approval for the project.
U.S. coal companies are looking for a better way to export to Asia, as there are now no major coal exporting facilities on the U.S. West Coast. Washington state, with its proximity to coal-rich Wyoming and Montana, is seen as the best place to start.
In November, Millennium Bulk Terminals LLC, a unit of Australia-based Ambre Energy Ltd., purchased the site of a former Alcoa Inc. aluminum smelter in Longview. Millennium plans to spend $100 million on the coal terminal, which local officials hope will bring 125 construction jobs and 75 permanent positions to Longview, a former sawmill hub where unemployment last year topped 12%.
Following Cowlitz County’s approval for the terminal, the next step is the state’s Shoreline Hearings Board, where a rejection is being sought by a coalition of environmental groups, including Climate Solutions, Earthjustice, the Sierra Club and the Washington Environmental Council. In late December the Washington state attorney general intervened on the side of the environmentalists, joining the state’s Department of Ecology in challenging the county’s development plans.
The Shoreline Hearings Board will take up the matter April 11.