Senate Panel Questions Ecology On Review Of Coal Terminal

Ashley Ahearn, OPB

Washington’s top environmental regulator found herself in the hot seat Thursday during a state Senate hearing called by Republican lawmakers who disapprove her agency’s scrutiny of a coal export terminal proposed for the northern shore of Puget Sound.

At issue: greenhouse gas emissions.

The Department of Ecology caused a stir last year when it announced that it would consider the greenhouse gas emissions produced when 48 million tons of exported coal is burned in Asia – that’s how much coal would move through the Gateway Pacific Terminal every year.

Sen. Doug Ericksen, R-Ferndale, convened a work session to question Ecology officials, including director Maia Bellon, about its move.

Ericksen emphasized fears among business and trade leaders that Ecology’s move sets a precedent.

Some worry that in the future the state could consider the greenhouse gas emissions of say, exporting Boeing airplanes or apples, and that could prevent projects from going forward.

Here’s an exchange between Bellon and Ericksen:

Maia Bellon

Bellon: Because there is no question about the end use of the commodity for the coal transportation projects, it makes that different in terms of the pollution that’s created.

Ericksen: I know we’re over time but I essentially heard you say that the Department of Ecology can pick and choose and no business can have a guarantee of what will be studied and what will not be studied.

Bellon said that greenhouse gases are a pollutant and therefore should be considered in the environmental review of projects.

But she stressed that her agency considers projects on a case-by-case basis and the environmental review is meant to present information. It’s not a final decision on whether a project is built or not.

The committee did not take any action during Thursday’s hearing.