On Friday, Cowlitz County, Washington and the Washington Department of Ecology (WDOE) released a draft environmental impact statement (EIS) for Millennium Bulk Terminals – Longview, a planned export terminal for coal and other bulk commodities along the Columbia River in Cowlitz County. Today’s EIS was produced by the state and county under the State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA), which is essentially Washington’s version of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), the federal environmental policy statute that requires environmental impact analysis of major federal actions affecting the environment. Disputes over the scope of the EIS for this terminal among Cowlitz County, WDOE and the Army Corps of Engineers has led to the production of dual EIS analyses: one produced by the Army Corps, which analyzes site-specific impacts as is traditional practice, and today’s SEPA analysis, which broadens the scope dramatically to include cumulative, lifecycle impacts not only of the terminal but the commodities being shipped through that terminal. It’s an unusual practice to say the least, and has had manufacturers concerned for a long time, given the potential precedent that could be set for all exports of manufactured goods.
We’re just now digging into the hundreds (thousands?) of pages making up the SEPA analysis. One area that immediately gives us concern is how the WDOE and Cowlitz County evaluate the greenhouse gas (GHG) footprint of the facility and the mitigation measures recommended. This is largely uncharted territory from both a legal and policy standpoint, and one that could have a significant impact on similar analyses in Washington and other states. Manufacturers depend heavily on exports, and conditions placed on one exported product could cascade to other products as well. If those conditions get in the way of trade or unduly delay exports, it could also violate U.S. international treaty obligations under World Trade Organization (WTO) agreements.
A 45-day comment period is now underway for the Millennium Bulk EIS; comments can be submitted here.