Yesterday, Millennium Bulk Terminals (MBT) appealed the Washington State Department of Ecology’s denial of its water quality permit for the proposed export facility in Longview. MBT says it is calling on the judicial system in this case, as company leadership believes Ecology overstepped its powers as a state department in the permitting process.
Stakeholders say they are worried the permit denial sends the wrong message to potential new business that may come to Washington. They argue Ecology’s decision was inappropriate and unrelated to the permit being considered.
“Even if Ecology were permitted to use its supplemental authority under the State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA)… to deny Millennium its CWA section 401 certification, Ecology’s denial is arbitrary and capricious and not supported by substantial evidence as it is directly contradicted by Ecology’s unchallenged, and now binding, Final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS),” states the notice of appeal sent to the Pollution Control Hearings Board.
The company also submitted a formal complaint and request for judicial review against Ecology, and its Director Maia Bellon, for acting out of prejudice against the company’s proposed project. The request was sent to the Superior Court of the State of Washington for Cowlitz County.
“Less than six months after publishing the Final EIS it invested five years in preparing—Ecology ignored its EIS water quality findings and instead invoked its SEPA substantive authority to deny the certification with prejudice based on non-water quality impacts identified in the EIS,” states the complaint.
The request also states the department’s denial was based upon “speculative findings” and claims Ecology placed an inappropriate emphasis on train and vessel traffic stemming from the terminal’s operation.
Back in April, Cowlitz County and Ecology released its final EIS on the proposed project, which found that the terminal would meet environmental standards during construction and operation. However, the EIS identified increased rail traffic and cancer risks for a nearby neighborhood as possible risks originating from the facility’s operation.
On September 26, Bellon denied MBT its water quality permit due to environmental concerns over the project’s potential effects on air quality, vehicle traffic, vessel traffic, rail capacity, rail safety, noise pollution, social and community resources, cultural resources and tribal resources.
State Rep. Jim Walsh (R-19) expressed his disappointment with the department’s decision to deny the project for reasons unrelated to water quality.
“The Washington Department of Ecology seems determined to oppose any industrial development in Cowlitz County, and rest of the 19th Legislative District,” he said in a recent op-ed.
“Few of Ecology’s objections have anything to do with the fact that the MBT permit application involves coal. The opinion focuses instead on the trains and ships moving the coal around. So, any major industrial project could be delayed on the same basis,” he added.
Wendy Hutchinson, MBT’s Vice President of Government and Public Affairs, echoed similar remarks during the company’s phone conference. “If you applied this standard to all other port projects in Washington state, then I find it difficult to see where any port can expand.”
Kristin Gaines also agreed. She is Vice President of Environmental Planning and Services at MBT.
“In our case, the decision was based on proposed impacts other than water quality. Most of these impacts would be from the transportation of the product,” she said. “That is like denying Amazon because of the UPS trucks it would use to deliver packages.”
The business community expressed its concerns with Ecology’s decision – and its effect on attracting companies to move to the state. Kris Johnson, president of the Association of Washington Business (AWB) called the move dangerous in a recent Keep Washington Competitive (KWC) release.
“Frankly, this is not the kind of business climate we want here in Washington state. We need clear permit guidelines and timely reviews. We’ve seen neither in the case of Millennium, where the project is now extending into its fifth year of review,” he said. “Agency overreach sends the wrong message to potential investors and jeopardizes future employment opportunities, particularly in areas of the state in dire need of an economic boost.”
MBT President and CEO Bill Chapman said the company would put its faith in the judicial system in the meantime to get the project back on track. “Sadly, we expect the agency will continue to unjustly deny future permits in an attempt to block jobs needed in Longview.”
Chapman added there was no place in the water certification which required the examination of the transportation system. Instead, Ecology tried to illegally expand its role in the permitting process, which oversteps powers Congress gives to states. Chapman also urged Director Bellon to “try to follow and fairly administer the law.”
Next week, the Cowlitz County Hearings Examiner will consider the project’s shoreline permit required for construction and final approval.