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State Promising Extensive Review for Proposed Coal Exports

Elaine Thompson
Associated Press

Environmentalists are applauding the state Department of Ecology, which announced it will conduct an extensive review of the proposed coal export terminal at Cherry Point near Bellingham. 

Ecology’s portion of the project’s environmental impact statements will include statewide analysis of up to 18 coal trains a day traveling through Washington communities, including the effects on human health and traffic. The agency says it will also evaluate the project’s potential contribution to greenhouse gas emissions—even those caused when the exported coal is burned overseas.

And that’s something the Army Corps of Engineers announced last month it would not include in its review.

Whatcom County will also limit its analysis to on-site and nearby impacts.

But Ecology said its larger scope is due in no small part to the thousands of comments submitted during public hearings.

Becky Kelly, with the Washington Environmental Council, says the people spoke and state government listened, and is taking its responsibility seriously.

She says the broad scope will “really help the public understand what this would mean for their communities, for their families, for their health,” Kelly said. “And that’s what the law requires and they intend to follow the law and they intend to give people the information that we all need, to know what this coal export would mean for our communities.” 

Supporters of the proposed terminals, both at Cherry Point and in Longview, are concerned the broad scope of the environmental review could interfere with trade.

Lauri Hennessey with the Alliance for Northwest Jobs and Exports says Ecology is departing from interstate commerce laws that have previously protected rail. And she says some communities are using coal as a way to express their frustration about rail traffic, which will increase regardless, as the economy recovers.

“The reality is that there’s a very good chance that this particular commodity could be exported through British Columbia, in which case it would still be on the same rail line, it would still be coming through the Northwest. It would just be exported somewhere else,” Hennessey said. 

She says there are many unanswered questions and supporters of the proposed terminal will continue to work closely with the lead agencies.

They expect a draft environmental impact study to be ready for public comment in about two years.

Bellamy Pailthorp covers the environment for KNKX with an emphasis on climate justice, human health and food sovereignty. She enjoys reporting about how we will power our future while maintaining healthy cultures and livable cities. Story tips can be sent to