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Public's Turn To Speak on Longview Coal Export Plan Comes Amid Market Doubts

The former Reynolds aluminum smelter site in Longview would become a coal exporting facility under a proposal that gets its first in a series of public hearing on Sept. 17, 2013.

The former Reynolds aluminum smelter site in Longview would become a coal exporting facility under a proposal that gets its first in a series of public hearing on Sept. 17, 2013.

Cassandra Profita

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A series of public hearings on the Millennium coal export project in Longview, Washington begin Tuesday. They get underway as new rules in China and declining coal prices worldwide are raising questions about whether the project and two others to export coal from ports in the Northwest will pan out. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Washington Department of Ecology are taking public comments on which environmental impacts they should consider in the project’s permitting process. Developer Millennium Bulk Terminals wants to export up to 44 million tons of coal a year from the Powder River Basin, which straddles Wyoming and Montana, to Asia.


The Longview coal proposals supporters and opponents are promoting events to be held before Tuesday’s official hearings. - Pro: Millennium Bulk Terminals will host a “More Jobs, More Exports” press event at 4:30 p.m. at the Cowlitz County Regional Conference Center – Floral Building. - Con: Power Past Coal is promoting a press conference and rally at 4 p.m. at Longview’s Memorial Park.

But critics of the project say as world coal prices drop, that plan might not make sense financially. Ross MacFarlane of the environmental group Climate Solutions told members of the news media last month that industry analysts predict hard times ahead for coal exporters.

“They’re seeing very significant changes in China markets and Asian economies which are likely to make coal export bets increasingly risky and increasingly unlikely to be in the money in the coming years,” he said.

On Thursday, China announced announced it is banning the construction of new coal-fired power plants in three major cities to control air pollution. Meanwhile, economic growth in China is slowing down, and The New York Times reports numerous coal companies are cutting back their mining operations and putting export projects on hold.

But backers of the Millennium project say their plans to export coal through Longview haven’t changed.

“I think things are fluctuating right now. I do believe the long-term demand is there. And it is a commodity so the price is going to fluctuate,” said Wendy Hutchinson the vice president of public affairs for Millennium. “We are in this it’s a long-term investment of private money to meet long term demand.”

Five hearings on the environmental review for the Millenium project are planned in Washington state this month and next in Longview, Spokane, Pasco, Vancouver and Tacoma.

A recent point of contention for opponents of the export plan is the Army Corps of Engineers decision this month to withdraw from a joint environmental review with the Washington Department of Ecology. Instead, the corps will take a more limited look at the immediate area where the terminal would be built, which is a former aluminum smelter near the Columbia River.

The Department of Ecology is focusing more broadly on the potential environmental impacts.It plans to look at the potential for coal and dust escaping along the coal train routes and the carbon pollution that would result from transporting and burning the coal.

Public Comment On Scope Of Millennium Bulk Terminals-Longview Coal EIS Process

The public can submit comments on the scope of the environmental review process in a number of ways:

  1. Through the official EIS website
  2. By email
  3. By U.S. mail: Millennium Bulk Terminals-Longview EIS, c/o ICF International, 701 Second Avenue, Suite 550, Seattle, WA 98104
  4. Or by attending one of the public meetings

  • Longview: Sept. 17, Cowlitz County Event Center, 1900 7th Ave.
  • Spokane: Sept. 25, Spokane Convention Center, 334 W. Spokane Falls Blvd.
  • Pasco: Oct. 1, The Trac Center, 6600 Burden Blvd.
  • Clark County: Oct. 9, Clark County Fairgrounds, 17402 N.E. Delfel Road, Ridgefield
  • Tacoma: Oct. 17, Tacoma Convention Center, 1500 Broadway

(Hover over markers and click play to hear reports on coal in communities of the Northwest. Click “website” for more EarthFix coverage. Click here for larger map view. Note: Train routes are approximations. They illustrate potential corridors based on existing lines and publicly available information.)

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