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Review: Coal terminal would boost pollution, create safety issues

SEATTLE — A coal-export terminal proposed in Washington would increase pollution, hurt some local communities and make rail accidents more likely, according to an environmental study released Friday.

Millennium Bulk Terminals-Longview wants to build the facility along the Columbia River near Longview to handle up to 44 million tons of coal a year. Coal would arrive by train from Montana, Wyoming and other states to be stored and loaded on ships heading to Asia.

The review by the state Department of Ecology and Cowlitz County found that the project would have a number of negative effects locally and beyond the facility, such as train noise, traffic delays and more global greenhouse gas emissions when the exported coal is burned in Asia.

The report analyzed potential harm to fish habitat, wetlands, water quality, local communities and more. Of 23 environmental issues, 19 would face negative effects, and some could not be offset or reduced, officials said.

“All of those issues are concerning, but especially the impact to people’s health is problematic,” ecology department Director Maia Bellon said in an interview.

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In a statement, Millennium CEO Bill Chapman said, “We have carefully designed the project to protect air and water quality, fish and wildlife, groundwater and people in accordance with regulatory requirements.”

Agencies will use the review to decide more than 20 permits needed before the coal terminal can be built.

The project, first proposed in 2010, faces strong opposition from environmentalists and others concerned about greenhouse gas emissions, coal dust pollution and potential damage to fisheries on the Columbia River.

Business, some labor groups and others say it would create jobs and boost the local economy.

The review found pollution from coal dust from trains would not be major because emissions levels would be below state and federal standards.

But pollution from locomotives would increase the cancer risk for one low-income neighborhood near the site. That neighborhood also would face severe noise and traffic delays at rail crossings without a quiet zone or other measures, the study said.

At full capacity, the project would add 16 more trains through the area and increase the number of ships by 1,680 a year. The increased rail traffic “would increase the potential for train accidents,” the review said.

The project would result in a net annual increase of nearly 2 million metric tons of climate-warming greenhouse gases. Regulators called on developers to offset that pollution by buying carbon credits or investing in renewable energy projects.

Critics said the request oversteps state law. Kris Johnson, president of the Association of Washington Business, said state law was designed to offset effects near a project’s site and within the state — not globally.

The ecology department defended the analysis, saying Washington law requires it to look at worldwide effects of projects originating in Washington.

“For us to do a thorough review that we’ve done here is exactly what the law expects of us,” Bellon said.

The Army Corps of Engineers is expected to release its own review later this year.