Permit Rejected for Proposed Washington Export Terminal

Published December 29, 2017

A proposed export terminal planned for the Columbia River in Washington suffered a setback in November when the state’s Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council (EFSEC) unanimously rejected the plan.

The terminal would be capable of handling up to 300,000 barrels of oil a day and 44 million tons of coal from western mines, for shipment to Asia.

Gov. Jay Inslee, a Democrat who refers to himself as “the greenest governor in the country,” has the final say over the terminal. Statements he’s made suggest it is highly unlikely he will reverse the EFSEC decision.

The setback for the project came just a month after prospects for the terminal received a boost from a Cowlitz County judge who ruled the state government improperly denied a sublease request for the project in October.

Battle Lines Formed

Todd Myers, director of the Center for the Environment at The Washington Policy Center, says Inslee, environmental activists, and Democrats in the legislature have fought the export terminal since it was first proposed, though labor unions have made it very clear they want the project to go through.

“There are multiple players in the fight over the terminal,” said Myers. “The director of EFSEC and other members of this critical committee that has to approve permits for the terminal are appointed by the governor or other elected officials who oppose the project.

“On the other hand, the unions have been clear they want the terminal, since their members will fill the jobs to build the terminals and provide longshoremen and other union jobs employed there,” Myers said. “Indeed, the state labor council actually has passed a couple of resolutions supporting the export terminals.”

Farm Support

Agricultural producers have also supported the terminal’s construction, because the facility would also be used to export farm products, Myers says.

“While people and the media have focused on coal and oil exports, agriculture exports to the Pacific Rim are huge in Washington state,” said Myers. “Agriculture has been very supportive of the export terminals.

“Even though the agriculture sector and labor unions support the terminal, the environmental community really holds the veto with this governor and these agencies,” Myers said.

‘Shaking Your Fist at Coal’

The effort to block the project is another instance of the environmental community focusing on symbolism rather than substance, says Myers.

“Their concern is if you ship more coal to China, then China will emit more carbon dioxide,” said Myers. “But the United States is not the only source of coal by a long shot, making the idea that stopping the construction of an export terminal in Washington state means China can’t get any more coal foolish.

“This is really more about the symbolic gesture of shaking your fist at coal than actually changing China,” Myers said. “The notion we can affect what China is going to do 20 years from now by blocking one coal export terminal shows the folly of this whole issue. Actually helping the environment is hard. Symbolic gestures are easy, and that tends to be where environmentalists go.”

Kenneth Artz ([email protected]) writes from Dallas, Texas.