US to conduct extensive review for proposed coal ports

Conservationists are praising the Washington State Department of Ecology, which said this week it would carry out an extensive review of the proposed coal export terminal at Cherry Point near Bellingham, north of Seattle.

The two-year state-wide environmental study, announced Wednesday, contrasts with what's being done in neighbouring British Columbia, Canada, as the province debates increased coal exports.

Coal is BC's number one export, bringing in $3.2 billion in provincial GDP in 2011 and accounting for 89% of the nation's coal shipments. According to PricewaterhouseCoopers, the province potentially holds about 12 billion tonnes of mineable coal resources.

But a recent proposed coal transfer station to be built at the Fraser Surrey Docks, which would handle up to 4 million metric tonnes of coal, has sparked debate, especially among local health authorities.

According to Fraser Health Authority chief medical officer Dr. Paul Van Buynder. It is necessary to assess first the possible health risks associated with the project.

"The barges travel up the river for 12 hours, not all of them have dust suppression as part of the proposal. There will be a lot of impacts associated with the increased train travel,” he told CBC News in June.

In Canada and the US the coal industry and its backers have pushed for the addition of new terminals, claiming that they could help spur new jobs in areas that are struggling economically.

Americans say Wednesday’s decision treats coal differently from other commodities that move through Washington State ports and suggested the state is going beyond its responsibility, reports KPLU News.

But opponents argue that burning the 48 million tons of coal proposed for export at the terminal every year “would release roughly 100 million tons of carbon dioxide, a staggering figure that amounts to as much carbon pollution as every activity in the state of Washington combined,” reports Grist:

Second, moving that much coal to a terminal will create congestion throughout the region. There’s simply no way around the math. In Seattle, for example, both Sightline and the traffic analysis firm Parametrix have confirmed that new coal export shipments would completely close major center city streets by an additional one to three hours every day, 365 days per year.

A draft of the environmental impact study it is expected to be available by 2015.