Whatcom County coal terminal under review

by: Graham Johnson Updated:

Whatcom County, Wash. - The state Department of Ecology announced Wednesday it will conduct a comprehensive environmental review of a proposed coal export terminal in Whatcom County that will include the impact of moving coal by train to Cherry Point, shipping it to Asia, and the effect on climate change when the coal is burned.

Environmental groups who oppose the project had asked for just such a review. They had packed hearings on the issue demanding a wide scope. The state estimates the review could take two years.

"I'm thrilled with the news that it's going to be a large scale analysis," said Liz Talley, a Sierra Club volunteer who became active on the issue when she saw coal trains pass by her Seattle home.

Lauri Hennessey, a spokeswoman for the Alliance for Northwest Jobs and Exports, an industry-funded nonprofit, predicts the project will survive the tougher scrutiny.

"It's troubling, but we're not giving up," Hennessey said. "We're pledging to keep working with the state to live within these parameters they've set today and we think we can."

Hennessey called the scope of the review "unprecedented" and said there could be negative consequences for the state economy.

“Do we really want that reputation? Do we want to be the place where it's difficult to do trade and exports?" Hennessey said.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is also reviewing the project, but the scope will be far narrower. The federal agency will look only at the impact of the proposed terminal itself.

Proponents said the proposed terminal at Cherry Point would create 5,680 jobs, 4,429 of them construction-related.