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Last Tuesday the public comment period for the Pacific Gateway coal export terminal came to an end, and the scoping process entered a new phase. The proposed Pacific Gateway would be the largest coal export terminal in the country if it is built.

This week Floyd McKay writing at Crosscut has published an excellent three part primer on the scoping process and here are a couple of excerpts:

Coal Train: The people and process behind Bellingham's coal port decision

By Floyd McKay

Final decisions on a host of permits aren’t expected until at least 2016 and legal appeals are inevitable. Even the most-optimistic timeline forecasts agree that no coal will be loaded onto Asia-bound ships until 2018, probably later—if at all. The sheer size and complexity of the project, the controversial nature of the coal it will load and the number of governmental agencies involved promise bumps and even some craters in the long and winding road to the terminal.

Coal Train, Part Two: An insider's guide to the coal port's environmental review

During four months of public meetings that ended this week, the terminal's opponents told three public agencies what issues they believe should be studied in environmental reviews of the terminal project under NEPA and SEPA. The public meetings, which closed Tuesday, are part of a process called “scoping.” The scoping phase is the first of two opportunities for the public to influence the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) that will ultimately go to decision-makers.  

Eight thousand people attended seven scoping sessions. About 750 of them spoke. Others signed comment sheets. An online scoping site collected over 10,000 comments. It was the biggest turnout of its kind in Northwest history.

Coal Train, Part 3: Who gets to greenlight Bellingham's giant coal port?

Ultimately, eight elected officials, an Army general and several agency heads hold the fate of the Gateway Pacific Terminal. Their decisions may also affect other proposed export terminals in the region. The three lead agencies—Whatcom County, Washington Department of Ecology and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers—are already heavily involved in determining the scope of environmental review. When they set that scope, in perhaps two months time, specialists will take over the process. The Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) they produce, described earlier in this series, will trigger key decisions.

Federal politics could be even more interesting if former Gov. Chris Gregoire is named to head a federal agency involved in this decision. Reports have tied her to both the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Interior, which controls coal leases. Directors of both high-profile agencies have recently resigned. Gregoire has friends on both sides of the Gateway issue. She gave early signals in favor of the project, then went silent on the issue during her last year in office. It’s unclear where she stands.
But that’s not the end. One more approval is required. Perhaps the biggest hurdle—and the last—is getting Gateway by Commissioner of Public Lands Peter Goldmark. If Gateway can clear all the other hurdles, SSA Marine must still secure a lease to build its facility within the Cherry Point Aquatic Reserve, which was established in 2000.
So that's where the scoping process stands now.

Washington's new Governor Jay Inslee probably knows climate issues as well or better than any Governor in the country has weighed in on the coal export terminal issue with a very strong statement.

Governor Inslee Calls Coal Exports ‘The Largest Decision We Will Be Making As A State From A Carbon Pollution Standpoint’

n his first press conference as governor last week, Inslee addressed another aspect of the climate change fight in the Pacific Northwest:  proposed coal export terminals that would allow for the shipping of 150 million of tons of coal every year from public lands in Wyoming and Montana’s Powder River Basin abroad.

In response to a question about whether or not federal government analyses of the terminals should take into account the carbon emissions that will come from the burning of the coal exported through the terminals, Inslee said:

It is clear that there are ramifications ultimately if we burn the enormous amounts of Powder River Basin coal that are exported through our ports… It is an enormous number of tons of carbon dioxide that will be released into the atmosphere, it doesn’t matter where it’s burned, it ends up in Puget Sound.  That is a physical fact.

The challenge is to figure out, frankly, for our state from a policy standpoint is where you sort of draw the line in evaluating those impacts from any carbon-based system.  I think that’s a challenge for us. I will say that from what I know, this is the largest decision we will be making as a state from a carbon pollution standpoint certainly during my lifetime, and nothing comes even close to it.  So I’m going to be giving some thought to this.

Inslee isn't overstating the high stakes this involves. But powerful forces are pushing for these five coal export terminals (or maybe six if talk of a new rail line to Eureka California come to fruition). With domestic consumption dropping Big Coal sees exports as their lifeline, and especially cheap Federally subsidized coal from the Powder River Basin shipped through these proposed ports to Asia. Turning our region into one section of their coal chute across the Pacific. And big coal continues to get their ducks in a row to do just that.
Crow Tribe Signs Coal Deal with Wyoming Company

  By Matthew Brown

CROW AGENCY — Leaders of the Crow Tribe agreed Thursday to give a Wyoming mining company rights to lease an estimated 1.4 billion tons of coal beneath the tribe's land in southeastern Montana.

The deal with Cloud Peak Energy involves more coal than the U.S. consumes annually, and revives stalled efforts to expand mining on the impoverished, 2.2 million-acre reservation.

That should give you some idea just how much coal they want to haul out of the Powder River Basin. Just one planned new mine would produce "more coal than the U.S. consumes annually"
Cloud Peak chief executive Colin Marshall said it could take five years to develop a mine that would produce up to 10 million tons of coal annually. Other mines are also possible in the leased areas, he said.

But whether anything gets built will be tied closely to the fate of pending coal port proposals in Oregon and Washington state, he said.

"If a coal port is developed, then this mine will go ahead and bring us the prosperity we are both looking for," Marshall said.

North of the border in British Columbia the Port Metro Vancouver stunned coal port opponents and Vancouver's Mayor with a hurried approval of coal port expansion plans for one project with one more waiting in the wings.

 

Vancouver coal-shipment permit rocks environmentalists

On Wednesday, Port Metro Vancouver issued a project permit that will allow Neptune Terminals to expand its capacity from 12 million to 18 million metric tonnes of coal annually.

A related proposal, which is still awaiting approval, would permit Fraser Surrey Docks to build a coal-loading plant that would handle 6 million tonnes annually.

In December Vancouver's Mayor called for more public input on the coal export projects, but it looks like the port has decided to disregard that and charge ahead.

This harshly critical piece just appeared in the Vancouver Sun.

In Port Metro Vancouver, it's full steam ahead for coal

Public consultation process is suspect when the players who stand to benefit are also the ones acting as middle man

By Pete McMartin, Vancouver Sun January 26, 2013

But why is a supposedly disinterested, impartial government body being allowed to express editorial judgments as to the worth or nature of the correspondence it receives from the public?

Why? Because it can. It can do whatever the hell it pleases. As its own literature states, its "Environmental Assessment Procedure" is "in-house." Its 11-man board of directors are all appointed by the federal government. Seven of those directors are nominated by port users (thus you get a board weighted with business people), while one director is nominated by the federal transport minister, one by the provincial government, one by the Prairie provinces and one by the municipalities abutting the port area.

Here's a thought: Maybe they should. Maybe a radical increase in coal exports, and the effect of such an increase on not just local but global environments, deserves public hearings and public examination. You know, like oil.

And maybe Port Metro Vancouver - which seems genuinely surprised at the controversy over coal expansion - should create a corporate structure that better reflects the concerns of the public it assures us it so diligently serves.

Activists protest North Vancouver harbour expansions

Environmental activists gathered for a rally Tuesday outside Port Metro Vancouver’s downtown offices, protesting a plan that could allow coal exports from the Lower Mainland to increase by up to 44 per cent.

Its unclear how much of this new coal terminal export capacity in the Vancouver metro area is meant to handle coal coming from the Powder River Basin.

Yesterday PRI's To the Point radio talk show (and a big favorite of mine) had a program on the controversy surrounding the expansion of coal ports on the Pacific. One of the journalists they interview is the Seattle PI's Joel Connelly

A Battle over the Future of Coal FRI JAN 25, 2013

Originally posted to Lefty Coaster on Sun Jan 27, 2013 at 10:02 AM PST.

Also republished by Koscadia, DK GreenRoots, Climate Hawks, and PacNW Kossacks.

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