Government regulators want to know how exporting coal from Northwest ports could affect the environment. They are looking at several projects individually. A lot of people want them to conduct one big study. They want to know how the entire region would be affected if all the coal export terminals are built.
People have been standing in line and taking numbers to get a chance to comment on a coal export terminal that could be built near Bellingham, Washington.
Commercial fisherman Rich Blanc was one of about a thousand people who came to a hearing in the nearby town of Mount Vernon.
Blanc: “We’re trying to do what we can to get the environmental impact statement to be broadened to include to where the coal is mined in the Powder River Basin in Wyoming, by train to Bellingham and then to China.”
An Environmental Impact Statement is supposed to uncover the ways a project could hurt people and their environment.
Government officials are creating one for the export terminal near Bellingham.
They could do more than that.
A federal environmental law allows environmental studies to reach beyond a single project.
Hundreds of people would like to see one big Environmental Impact Statement that covers all five export projects.
They want that big study to look at the impact of trains covering hundreds of miles as they pass through Eastern Washington and work their way to the export terminals.
Those terminals are proposed for locations that run from Oregon’s south coast, to ports on the Columbia River to Puget Sound.
David Gesl is with the Northwest District of the Army Corp of Engineers.
He says a regional study usually is restricted to a single watershed and to the activities the Army Corps regulates.
Gesl: “We don’t regulate rail traffic. We’re regulating the discharge of fill into the waters of the United States as well as the structures themselves for it. So the connection has to be between those actions rather than the larger more distantly related activities.”
Gesl says Army Corps leaders in the Northwest could ask for a regional study.
Approval would have to come from the Army Corps headquarters in Washington D.C.
Copyright 2012 Northwest Public Radio