Washington's Attorney General said Friday that he is opposed to a proposal to build the nation's largest oil-by-rail terminal in Vancouver, Wash.
"Protecting the environment and public safety are top priorities of my office," Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson said in a statement. "The bottom line is that the potential benefits of this project are dramatically outweighed by the potential risks and costs of a spill."
Ferguson's remarks came on the final day of a trial-like phase of the permitting process before Washington's energy council. For the last five weeks, proponents and opponents of the Vancouver Energy Project have argued their case before a judge and the Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council. Friday's hearing included public testimony.
The proposed terminal at the Port of Vancouver is a joint-venture backed by Savage Companies, a logistics firm and Tesoro Corp., an oil company.
If built, the transfer facility would handle 360,000 barrels of crude oil daily from the Bakken Region of North Dakota. Once in Vancouver, the oil would be pumped from train cars into storage tanks. From there, it would be loaded onto ships bound for West Coast ports.
"There is significant benefit from this project, there are significant safeguards in place," said Dan Riley, Tesoro's vice president for government affairs. "We disagree with what the attorney general said."
The process still has several more steps. Eventually, the energy council will make a recommendation to Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, who will decide whether or not to permit the project. That decision could be appealed to the state's supreme court.
Inslee has frequently spoken out against fossil fuels and enacted policies to curb climate change. Critics of the project have cited an investment in fossil fuels as one of their primary reasons for opposing the terminal.
Prior to Friday's public hearing in Vancouver, about 100 demonstrators, wearing red to signal their opposition to the oil terminal, gathered outside for speeches. They held signs that read "No More Oil Trains" and "Stand Up To Oil."
Many praised Ferguson for his decision to speak out against the oil terminal.
Mosier, Oregon, Mayor Arlene Burns — whose town was the site of an oil train derailment in June — said she was elated.
"Our elected officials, these people, who are in the place to serve the people of our states are using their minds, are using their hearts, they're listening to the voice of intelligence and reason," Burns said.
Environmental groups also spoke out, arguing that Ferguson's decision sends a clear message the oil terminal should not be permitted.
"It sends a strong signal to Gov. Inslee in the end," said Dan Serres, conservation director with Columbia Riverkeeper, an environmental group that opposes the terminal. "Washington is going to benefit by turning down this very large, very dangerous proposal."
Backers of the project argue it's needed to support domestic energy production. Tesoro representative Riley said not only would it create hundreds of jobs, but it could reduce West Coast oil imports by 30 percent.
"This project does not add carbon," Riley said. "What we're doing is just displacing foreign crude with domestic or North American crude. So from a carbon standpoint, it's net equal to less."
The energy council has until November to rule on this portion of the permitting process.