Washington State’s Enviro Head Is ‘At Best Mistaken’ About Coal Terminal She Killed, Company Says

Tim Pearce | Energy Reporter
  • Washington state blocked plans to build a coal export terminal last year for failing to meet a slew of federal and state environmental standards.
  • Millennium Bulk Terminals proposed the project and says Washington’s decision was a political, rather than legal, move that violated the rights of the company for equal treatment under the law.
  • Recent claims made by Washington defending its decision in a letter to the Senate Environment and Public Works committee are “simply false,” Millennium said.

Millennium Bulk Terminals – currently in a legal battle with Washington state to build the largest coal export terminal in the U.S. – repudiated claims by Washington Department of Ecology director Maia Bellon Wednesday.

Bellon sent a letter on Aug. 15 to the Senate Environment and Public Works (EPW) committee defending her agency’s September 2017 decision to deny Millennium a key federal permit for a proposal to build an export terminal that would ship coal largely from Montana and Wyoming to markets in Asia. Millennium spent six years and roughly $15 million in the permitting process before its proposal was denied. (RELATED: Washington Killed A Project To Export 44 Million Tons Of Coal To Asia. Now The State Is Getting Sued)

Millennium sued state regulators on Oct. 24, 2017, for “biased and prejudiced decision-making.” Six other states that would benefit from the terminal, the National Association of Manufacturers, and Washington’s Cowlitz County – where the terminal was to be built – have filed amicus briefs in support of the company.

“The Washington State Department of Ecology has been falsely accused of denying a water quality permit to the Millennium project based on our agency’s so-called philosophical opposition to the coal export terminal,” Bellon’s letter, which was addressed to EPW Chairman Sen. Tom Barrasso and Ranking Member Sen. Tom Carper, said. “This is frankly nonsense.”

“At many stages, the applicant failed to provide reasonable assurance that the project would not cause irreparable harm to water quality,” said Bellon’s letter, obtained by The Daily Caller News Foundation.

Millennium responded to Bellon’s letter with its own, which was sent to Barrassso and Carper on Sept. 12.

Bellon’s letter said that the permit was denied for failing to meet standards in the Clean Water Act (CWA). The claim contradicts Ecology staff and lawyers who testified that the permit was denied under state statutes and standards. Either the staff members and lawyers are wrong or Bellon “is at best mistaken, or otherwise simply false,” Millennium’s letter, which was obtained by TheDCNF, said.

Washington’s State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA) was used to justify the denial, but the CWA provides for states to apply their own environmental standards where no federal rules exist.

“Millennium failed to meet existing water quality standards” or “provide any mitigation plan for the areas the project would devastate,” Bellon’s letter said.

Millennium “submitted to Ecology a host of mitigation plans for environmental impacts,” Millennium’s letter states. The company drafted plans to prevent damage to Washington’s Columbia River and nearby wetlands where possible. For damage that is unavoidable, the company drafted plans to invest in reclamation and conservation projects in other areas.

For example, the proposed coal terminal would require 24 acres of wetland to be filled. To offset the damage, Millennium proposed converting 61 acres of pasture into new wetland habitat, rehabilitating 14 acres of wetland and creating 14 acres of buffer land around existing wetlands to help protect the remaining areas, Millennium’s letter states.

“Ecology spent $15 million of Millennium’s money and six long years in producing a 13,600-page Environmental Impact Statement, which unequivocally concluded that the Project would result in no significant environmental effect on water quality, fish, wetlands or aquatic resources, and that any potential impacts could be fully mitigated,” according to court documents filed by Millennium and obtained by TheDCNF.

The Department of Ecology considered more than just aquatic harm. Under state regulations, the agency studied the proposed terminal’s effects on rail and river traffic, pollution from the increased number of trains and ships, noise pollution and damage to American Indian and historic sites. The project has gained local and union support despite the state’s findings.

“The facts of the denial are simple: the company failed to provide reasonable assurance that the project would not cause irreparable harm to water quality. Millennium has acknowledged the basis of the denial in court filings. And every court that has made a decision on this case has affirmed our decision,” Ecology communications manager Dave Bennett told TheDCNF in an email.

“We’re confident in our work and our processes, and believe that when the dust settles this decision and our authority to make it will be upheld,” Bennett added.

Millennium had not submitted mitigation plans for effects not covered by the CWA because the company was not aware that the state would also apply SEPA when considering permit approval, according to court documents.

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