Agencies embark on two-year EIS process for coal export terminal

An environmental review of proposed bulk cargo and railroad spur projects at Cherry Point in Whatcom County, Wash., will closely study their direct effects at the site and evaluate a broad range of indirect and cumulative impacts likely to occur within and beyond Washington.

Whatcom County, the Washington Department of Ecology and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers are the co-lead agencies on a joint Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the proposed Gateway Pacific Terminal and BNSF Railway Custer Spur track expansion, said the Ecology department in a July 31 statement.

The Gateway Pacific Terminal – proposed by Pacific International Terminals – would provide storage and handling of exported dry bulk commodities, including coal, grain, iron ore, salts and alumina. To support the Gateway Pacific Terminal and other industries at Cherry Point, BNSF proposes to add rail facilities and install a second track along its 6-mile branch line.

At full capacity, the shipping terminal would export 54 million tonnes per year of bulk commodities – including up to 48 million tonness per year of coal – and could generate 18 train trips (9 round trips) per day and more than 18 deep-draft “Capesize” vessel trips per week.

Whatcom County and Ecology must follow the State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA), and the Corps must follow the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). The joint process enables the co-lead agencies to avoid duplication when the two laws overlap and to meet each statute’s separate requirements.

Whatcom County and Ecology will require:

  • A detailed assessment of rail transportation impacts in Whatcom County near the project site, specifically including Bellingham and Ferndale.
  • An assessment of how the project would affect human health, including impacts from related rail and vessel transportation in Whatcom County.
  • An evaluation of greenhouse gas emissions from terminal operations, and rail and vessel traffic.

In addition, Ecology will require:

  • A detailed assessment of rail transportation on other representative communities in Washington and a general analysis of out-of-state rail impacts.
  • An assessment of how the project would affect human health in Washington.
  • A general assessment of cargo-ship impacts beyond Washington waters.
  • An evaluation and disclosure of greenhouse gas emissions of end-use coal combustion, which would be in countries around the Pacific Rim.

The combined EIS will address all of the co-lead agencies’ scoping requirements. The co-lead agencies could revise the scope for the draft EIS in response to new findings or other information as development of the draft EIS moves forward. The co-leads will seek public comment on a draft of the EIS, which they expect will take about two years to prepare. Then they will prepare a joint final EIS.

The co-lead agencies reviewed and considered about 125,000 comments received during a 121-day public comment period last fall and winter on the scope for the EIS.

About Barry Cassell 20414 Articles
Barry Cassell is Chief Analyst for GenerationHub covering coal and emission controls issues, projects and policy. He has covered the coal and power generation industry for more than 24 years, beginning in November 2011 at GenerationHub and prior to that as editor of SNL Energy’s Coal Report. He was formerly with Coal Outlook for 15 years as the publication’s editor and contributing writer, and prior to that he was editor of Coal & Synfuels Technology and associate editor of The Energy Report. He has a bachelor’s degree from Central Michigan University.