A proposed coal export terminal in Longview is accenting the divide between fossil fuel opponents and pro-growth forces which include a hefty array of labor unions.
Millennium Bulk Terminals’ construction project alone is expected to produce 2,650 direct and indirect jobs, $135 million in total wages and $435 million in economic activity. Ongoing site operations would yield approximately 300 total jobs, $25 million in total wages and $70 million in total economic impact per year.
The majority of coal traveling through Washington comes from the Powder River Basin in Montana and Wyoming, and according to the United States Geological Survey (USGS), is a much cleaner alternative to what is burned in other countries, including Asian nations. Once the Millennium terminal is finished, it would handle an estimated 44 million metric tons of coal per year.
In late April, Cowlitz County and the Washington State Department of Ecology (DOE) released a Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) for the project. Public comment extended through mid-June and the final EIS is anticipated to be released between January and July of 2017.
Passes Muster On Particulate Matter, Coal Dust
The DEIS found that the proposed project would meet air quality standards for particulate matter and coal dust would not exceed federal or state air quality standards. The terminal’s operation would result in approximately 0.25 teaspoons of coal dust per year per square meter outside of the project area.
The environmental review recommended Millennium make changes to reduce coal dust impacts, including establishing a reporting process for related complaints in Cowlitz County, and monitoring and reducing coal dust during operations at the project area.
Bill Chapman, president and CEO of Millennium Bulk Terminals, said in a Longview Daily News guest commentary, “We’re focused on being good neighbors, building a world-class terminal and meeting or exceeding strict environmental regulations every step of the way.”
Chapman spent 30 years as a lawyer including work as an environmental attorney based in Seattle. He is a co-founder of the Washington Wildlife and Recreation Fund. He has served under three Washington Governors including incumbent Jay Inslee, on the Recreation and Conservation Funding Board of the state.
Four Years In, And Not Done Yet
Chapman for three years helped lead clean-up work of the proposed terminal site, but still has quite a job ahead of him. It has been four years since the entire project review process began and could be another year before a go-no go decision by the state.
The smelter shut down in 2001, which caused major economic hardships for 900 families, according to Dennis Webber, commissioner of district two on the Cowlitz County Council. Cowlitz County still hasn’t recovered from that economic loss, he said. The export terminal will encompass more than 100 acres and cost Millennium an estimated $600 million.
Broad Labor Support
An array of labor organizations support for the Millennium project. They include:
- Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen, Washington State Legislative Board
- Aerospace Machinists Union, District Lodge 751
- Pierce County Building and Construction Trade Council
- Washington State Building and Trades Council
- Longview/Kelso Building and Construction Trades Council
- International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local 48
International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation (SMART) Workers
Kathryn Stenger, spokesperson for Alliance for Northwest Jobs and Exports, told Lens all members of the group support the Millennium project, and all other proposed terminal projects in the state.
The membership of the Alliance is 59 companies, labor, civic and other organizations. They include Associated Industries of Spokane, Associated General Contractors of Washington, BNSF Railway, Greater Spokane Inc., plus a division of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, the National Association of Manufacturers, Pacific Merchant Shipping Association, SSA Marine, Vigor Industrial, Washington Farm Bureau, and the Washington, Oregon and Montana state legislative boards of the United Transportation Union.
Labors Wants ‘Long-Term Middle Class Jobs’
Herb Krohn, Washington Director of the International Association of the Sheet Metal, Aviation, Rail and Transportation (SMART) Workers Union – Transportation Division, told Lens benefits of the project extend far and wide.
“It means long-term, middle class jobs for people in that area and also railroad worker jobs going back to the origin of the commodities (in places) such as Wyoming, Montana and all along the route,” said Krohn.
Other labor leaders also voiced support for the project. Their core concern is that an important source of jobs could be deep-sixed.
Lee Newgent, Executive Secretary Washington State Building and Trades Council, told Lens the Council has been supportive of the project since the beginning. He said the council wants the site to continue to be used as supportive infrastructure for industry and trade, and to generate jobs and tax revenues.
Delays Have Broader ‘Dampening’ Effect
Larry Brown, legislative and political director for Aerospace Machinists Union District Lodge 751, told Lens years have gone by and there still is not a clear answer for the proposal. “It’s really dampening the willingness of investors to participate or propose large projects which is a basis for living-wage blue collar jobs,” said Brown.
Mark Martinez, executive secretary of the Pierce County Building and Construction Trade Council, said the Millennium export terminal will potentially result in a “lot of work for union members down in the local community.” He said the Council is concerned that the longevity of the approval process harms the prospects for this and other export facility projects.
Issue Is State’s Global Trade Capacity
Stenger told Lens the purpose of the Millennium terminal is to expand the state’s capacity for global trade, not just for the export of a particular commodity, such as coal.
“No matter what happens with coal…that infrastructure expansion will be available to all products and be able to get Washington goods to market,” said Stenger.
Mike Elliot, assistant to the chairman of Washington State Legislative Board for the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen, agreed. He told Lens that rail labor doesn’t want to get involved with commodity battles. “It shouldn’t matter what your commodity is. If you come in and say you want to build something, the focus should be on what you’re building, not what you are exporting.”
Opponents remain concerned about the impact of the coal trains on communities, and the global implications of continued use of coal for energy.
Michael Lang, conservation director at Friends of the Columbia Gorge, prepared comments on the DEIS with pictures highlighting coal debris along the river. He wrote that the average of eight daily loaded coal trains would further pollute the area.
Dr. Daniel Jaffe, professor of Atmospheric Chemistry at University of Washington Bothell, wrote in submitted comments that he wants to see the DEIS set limits for what would be an acceptable “nuisance” level of pollution from the project’s implementation, although health effects of short term exposures are not currently regulated by the federal Clean Air Act.
Governor Inslee has not taken a position on the Millennium terminal project because it is still undergoing environmental review, according to Inslee’s Office.
Coal Is Not Going Away Anytime Soon
Despite ongoing controversy around coal and coal exports, it will be part of the energy landscape for decades to come, globally and in the U.S.
In the coal section of the 2016 International Energy Outlook published by the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) in May, coal-specific base case projections are for global consumption to grow in developed nations by .6 percent annually from 2012 to 2040, and by a striking 1.9 percent annually over the same span in less-developed and emerging economies.
The domestic presence of coal will be similarly robust. As Lens has reported, “a 2015 reference case projection from…EIA…has overall U.S. coal production rising modestly by 2040…from recent levels…On total U.S. energy consumption, according to the EIA, coal holds its ground as the third most prevalent source from 2012 to 2040, trailing petroleum products and natural gas but continuing to outpace renewables.”
‘Incomprehensible’ Standard And ‘Dangerous Precedent’
One controversial aspect of the DEIS is the requirement for Millennium to be responsible for the carbon footprint of coal being transported through the facility, from the mining of it domestically to the use of it in other countries.
Association of Washington Business Government Affairs Director Brandon Houskeeper gave testimony at the May 24th public hearing in Longview. He said the Millennium draft environmental impact statement is “a vast departure” from the traditional use of the State Environmental Protection Act (SEPA) tool.
“It is incomprehensible that transportation companies are somehow responsible for mitigating the end use of products they ship,” wrote the Tri-City Herald’s editorial board. “This sets a dangerous precedent for any business that has even a partial involvement with carbon emissions.”
Is not clear what will happen with the land if the project is ultimately rejected.
According to Guy Barrett, site manager for the cleanup of the Reynolds site where the Millennium terminal would be situated, cleanup construction is scheduled to begin in 2017 or 2018 and the site should be ready for re-development by approximately 2020.
Since the project is privately funded, Newgent said there aren’t any proposals or funding to make use of the land if it is denied.