The Clean Energy Governor And The Columbia River Oil Refinery

An aerial view of the Columbia River.AMELIA TEMPLETON
An aerial view of the Columbia River.




A new oil refinery is the last thing you might expect Washington Gov. Jay Inslee’s administration to be courting. After all, Inslee has developed a national reputation as a champion of curbing the use of fossil fuels.

And yet, Inslee’s administration has worked for months to facilitate such a project along the Columbia River. A Texas-based energy company wants to site a combined crude oil and biofuel refinery in Longview, Washington. The company’s goal is to capitalize on low carbon fuel standards championed by West Coast political leaders, including Inslee.

The refinery is a project Inslee could have the final say in approving.

Inslee is a politician on a tightrope: He’s cultivating the reputation of a national leader on climate change policy. And he’s also the head of a government that is working with businessmen whose project calls for three trainloads of North Dakota crude oil to be hauled into his state each week by way of the Columbia River Gorge.

Riverside Energy’s plans for the 45,000 barrels-per-day refinery first surfaced publicly in April.

Since then, Inslee has said publicly that he knows next to nothing about the project.

“Have not heard much about it other than what you have reported in the media,” Inslee told reporters when asked about it at a May 28 news conference.

Emails obtained through a public records request by OPB and EarthFix tell a different story when it comes to Inslee’s administration. They document how Inslee’s cabinet and staff have been in discussions with Riverside Energy CEO Lou Soumas for nearly a year.

Inslee’s advisers have scheduled meetings with Soumas, asked him to give presentations to staff in various state agencies and invited him to comment on potential clean fuels legislation. In an email to Soumas last summer, an Inslee staffer offered to take action to support the advanced fuels industry.

In February, Soumas wrote to the Port of Longview that the Governor’s office had asked for updates on the project and when it could be announced, according to an email obtained by Columbia Riverkeeper and shared with news organizations.

“They are anxious to tie us in with their just issued draft Clean Fuels Standard process and other activities important to the (state’s) energy and commerce plans,” Soumas wrote. “I’m meeting with several of Inslee’s direct reports on Wednesday in Olympia and they hope for a positive update on concrete progress on the project.”

A week later, Brian Bonlender, the state’s director of commerce, and Matt Steurwalt, Inslee’s executive director of policy, held a meeting with Soumas in Steurwalt’s office, documents show.

Hours after the meeting, Bonlender connected Soumas with staff at the nonprofit Climate Solutions and a state lawmaker’s office.

When asked about the emails during an appearance on The Seattle Channel earlier this week, Inslee said he expects his staff to have such discussions.

“So I think I’d probably categorize these as: we’re trying to figure out what they have in mind,” Inslee said. “This does not presage any agreement whatsoever or opposition whatsoever because you have to know what you’re doing.”

Environmental groups, including the Columbia Riverkeeper and the Seattle-based think tank Sightline Institute, say such discussions should be happening in public view to ensure an honest process.

“It’s very concerning, it’s very worrisome that this kind of communication, this kind of lobbying would be happening with the governor’s office outside the view of the public, on an issue of this magnitude,” Sightline Policy Director Eric de Place said. “We’re talking about a very environmentally risky project in a key part of the region.”

Energy projects on the scale of Riverside’s proposal must undergo a review by the Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council. It’s designed to assess whether projects comply with state statute.

Jim Luce, an attorney who chaired the council between 2001 and 2011, said he always cautioned the governor not to comment on proposed projects.

“When I was EFSEC chair, working with the governor’s staff, I encouraged — in fact, the staff encouraged — the governor to say nothing regarding a potential application because the public might conclude that there had been a predetermination or a predisposition toward a specific outcome on a project, which the governor would then have to finally decide,” Luce said.

But, he said, staff in the governor’s administration must toe a fine line. They advise on and promote the governor’s energy policies, yet the governor ultimately must make an independent decision on projects that might benefit those policies.

The refinery outlined in Soumas’ pitches to the Port of Longview and state officials aligns with Inslee’s push for cleaner fuels. With California, Oregon and British Columbia having passed low carbon fuels regulations, Soumas has said he sees Washington’s adoption of those rules as a matter of time.

Soumas has pitched his project to economic leaders in Longview as “the U.S. largest advanced renewable fuels facility” having “the lowest carbon footprint of any U.S. refinery” and capable of meeting the state’s proposed low carbon fuel standards.

Two thirds of the facility’s production would handle crude oil shipped by train from the Bakken shale of North Dakota. The other third would handle used cooking, seed and vegetable oils.

The refinery would rely on new technologies to create a mix of low carbon jet fuel, gasoline and other petroleum products for use in Portland and Southwest Washington.

Soumas has also estimated the refinery would generate 400 construction jobs and $8 million in tax revenue.

Inslee’s office told the Longview Daily News it sees opportunity in the project.

Keith Phillips, Inslee’s special assistant on climate and energy, said Riverside’s proposal is intriguing.

“The idea that they’re bringing biofuels and green jet fuels and cleaner gasoline — that’s all intriguing, and we’re very interested in it,” Phillips said. “But we haven’t made any explicit link to the clean fuels standards in part because we are working respectfully with the Legislature on ‘can we reach agreement on how to move forward.’”

Phillips said he and other staff have intentionally limited Inslee’s involvement in such discussions.

“We have been very careful with him and he has insisted on that,” he said. “He knows there have been clean refineries proposed. But has not met with the proponents, and has not been briefed by staff on the details. He’s waiting to see whether he has to perform a former legal role on the project.

de Place of the Sightline Institute said the track record of Northwest biofuel ventures is “one of failure.”

Two projects initially built as biofuel refineries in the Pacific Northwest now handle fossil fuels. Facilities in Clatskanie, Oregon, and in Hoquiam, Washington, failed as biofuel projects and now handle crude oil.

“The prospects of adding a third such site in the same region strikes me as one that’s really just a stalking horse for the conventional oil industry,” de Place said. “And as such I don’t really see why the governor’s office would be participating in the way they are alleged to be participating.”

KUOW/EarthFix reporter Ashley Ahearn and Northwest News Network reporter Austin Jenkins contributed to this report.

Larsen Leads Bill To Reauthorize School Safety Program

Source: Rep. Rick Larsen, WA-2
WASHINGTON, D.C. (link)—Today,Reps. Rick Larsen, WA-02, Mike Coffman, CO-06, and Suzan DelBene, WA-01, introduced a bill to help pay for improved security measures in schools, such as training for staff and students, and deterrents like lighting and locks. The School Safety Act of 2015 would reauthorize the Secure Our Schools program, which provides matching grants to local, state and tribal governments to meet schools’ individual security needs.
“Schools must be a place where our students feel safe. I introduced this bill to help schools and communities assess and meet their unique safety needs. Sadly our country has not seen the end of violent crimes. Congress must do much more to make our schools and communities safer and shrink the cycle of violence. This bill helps empower schools to focus on what they do best: teaching our students and preparing them for their futures,” Larsen said.
“School violence has hit my district and Colorado hard and I am committed to finding ways to make our schools safer. This bipartisan, common sense legislation will help fund important school safety programs across the country. From education to improved technology, our schools can be made safer through a comprehensive approach to dealing with school violence. I urge my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to stand with me in fighting to make our schools a safe place to learn,” Coffman said.
“I’m strongly committed to ensuring the safety and security of our students. While there is no one law that will prevent every single instance of senseless violence, like last year’s tragic shooting at Marysville-Pilchuck High School, we can and must do more. The School Safety and Security Act is an important first step and I’m honored to help introduce it. This bipartisan legislation will provide critical resources to keep our schools safe, ensure teachers and administrators are adequately trained in security procedures, and improve notification and response technologies in schools across the country,” DelBene said.
Violence in schools has continued at a steady pace in recent years, with tragic shootings at Marysville-Pilchuck High School in Marysville, Wash., in October 2014, and at Arapahoe High School in Centennial, Colo., in December 2013.
The Washington State School Directors’ Association has endorsed the bill.
The Secure Our Schools program takes a comprehensive approach to preventing violence in schools based on schools’ unique needs. Matching funds can pay for physical deterrents, security assessments, security training and coordination with local law enforcement. The Act reauthorizes the program and updates it to allow funding to cover emergency communications systems with local law enforcement. 

Obama Administration Finalizes Clean Water Rule

Wildlife refuges in the Klamath Basin often feature a mixture of commercial agriculture and what remains of the historic wetlands.
Wildlife refuges in the Klamath Basin often feature a mixture of commercial agriculture and what remains of the historic wetlands.

By Courtney Flatt, NWPR


The Obama Administration Wednesday announced a new clean water rule. The Environmental Protection Agency says it will help limit pollution in streams and wetlands.

The rule is meant to clarify uncertainty about who can regulate these smaller waterways and water bodies.

Environmentalists say the new rule will keep drinking water clean. Lauren Goldberg is the staff attorney with Columbia Riverkeeper. She says this new rule will provide critical protection for clean drinking water and fish habitat.

“This decision is a really important step in restoring protections that were in place for a number of decades that helped to keep water sources in the Northwest — and throughout the country — clean for consumers,” Goldberg said.

Property rights and agriculture groups say the rule is too vague and burdensome. They say it could create unnecessary permits and lead to lawsuits.

“Farmers are very concerned that they may need to get federal permits for simple things like ordinary field work, or fence construction, or seeding,” said Evan Sheffels, associate director of government relations with the Washington Farm Bureau.

One half of people in Oregon and one third of people in Washington get drinking water from sources that rely on these types of small streams and water bodies.

Nisqually Wildlife Refuge would be renamed for civil rights hero Billy Frank Jr.

Billy Frank Jr. poses for a 2014 photo near Frank’s Landing on the Nisqually River in Nisqually, Wash. Frank, a Nisqually tribal elder who was arrested dozens of times while trying to ‘assert his native fishing rights during the Fish Wars of the 1960s and ’70s. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren, File)
Billy Frank Jr. poses for a 2014 photo near Frank’s Landing on the Nisqually River in Nisqually, Wash. Frank, a Nisqually tribal elder who was arrested dozens of times while trying to ‘assert his native fishing rights during the Fish Wars of the 1960s and ’70s. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren, File)


By Joel Connelly, Seattle PI


The state’s congressional delegation, showing rare bipartisan unity, plans next week to introduce legislation that would rename the Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge in honor of Billy Frank  Jr., champion of native fishing rights and a Washington civil rights hero.

The bill would create a National Historic Site to mark the 1854 Treaty of Medicine Creek, which took land from natives but did guarantee them the right to take fish “at all usual and accustomed stations . . . in common with the citizens of the territory.”

“I loved Billy Frank:  He was one of the greatest men I have met in my life,” said U.S. Rep. Denny Heck, D-Wash., the principal author of the legislation.  “He is our Martin Luther King, our Desmond Tutu, our Nelson Mandela.”

Frank was viewed differently when he launched Indian fishing rights protests on the Nisqually in the 1960′s.  He was arrested 50 times, starting at the age of 14, for “illegal” fishing on the Nisqually River, where he was born and lived, and where his ancestors lived.

He died last year, at 83, as a recipient of the Albert Schweitzer Humanitarian Award, a person of vast credibility who began with a simple message.  “He said simply, Treaties are the word of America, and America should keep its word,’ ” ex-Gov. Mike Lowry recalled.

The struggle for fishing rights became a seminal — perhaps THE seminal — episode in the modern history of Native-American rights.

“I have a particular view of how this impacted ‘Indian Country,’ ” said Heck.  The issue of treaty rights to fish gave Native Americans a platform on resources.  It gave them standing on other issues, and led to the National Indian Gaming Regulatory Act.  And that act led to the fastest drop in Indian poverty we have ever seen.”


In this file photo from the late 1960s provided by the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission, Billy Frank Jr., left, fishes on the Nisqually River near Olympia, Wash., with his half brother Don McCloud. Frank, a Nisqually tribal elder who was arrested dozens of times while trying to assert his native fishing rights during the Fish Wars of the 1960s and '70s, died Monday, May 5, 2014. He was 83. (AP Photo/Courtesy Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission, File)

In this 1960′s photo, Billy Frank Jr., left, fishes on the Nisqually River near Olympia, Wash., with his half brother Don McCloud. Frank, a Nisqually tribal elder, was arrested dozens of times while trying to assert his native fishing rights during the Fish Wars of the 1960s and ’70s,. (AP Photo/Courtesy Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission, File)


How so? “Billy was the spear point in treaty rights,” Heck added.

An historic moment in Northwest history came in 1974, when conservative U.S. District Judge George Boldt ruled for the Native Americans, that treaty Indians were entitled to 50 percent of the salmon catch and could fish in “all usual and accustomed grounds and stations.”

When he was 14, Bill Frank had told game wardens who arrested him:  “Leave me alone, goddamn it! I live here.”

In later years, Frank would replace confrontation with cooperation in restoring the salmon runs that help define the Pacific Northwest.

“When a bunch of Really Important People get together in a conference room, you can always tell Mr. Frank even from afar,” author Timothy Egan once wrote.  Amid the government and corporate executives, all tasseled loafers and silk ties, he’s the one with the long pony tail, the gold salmon medallion and the open necked shirt.

“And he’s the one with the scars — nicks, cuts and slash marks — from a lifetime of being harassed by people who don’t like Indians, and from an all-season outdoor life.”

The Nisqually Wildlife Refuge is a suitable honor.  Frank lived to see levies and dikes come down at the mouth of the Nisqually River, with estuary habitat restored where salmon can grow up, and where visitors can witness a multiplicity of shore birds.

“The absence of natural estuaries like this is part of the reason why the region is still going backwards rather than forwards on Puget Sound salmon,” Heck noted.

Heck has done his homework on the bill.  He has lined up as a cosponsor influential Oklahoma Republican Rep. Tom Cole, a member of the Chickasaw Nation. He has also signed up Alaska’s crusty Republican Rep. Don Young.


Canada geese in the Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge

Canada geese in the Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge, a sanctuary for birds and a place where young salmon can grow up.


A cosponsor from this state, Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, is a usually hyper partisan member of the House Republican leadership.  “Her signing on says to the leadership, ‘This is O.K.’,” said Heck.

He has also secured backing from the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission — long headed by Billy Frank — and the National Congress of American Indians. Brian Cladoosby, chairman of the Swinomish Tribe, is currently president of the congress.

The legislation, officially “The Billy Frank, Jr., Tell Your Story Act” creates an opportunity for the Nisqually, Muckleshoot, Puyallup and Squaxin Island tribes to tell their stories.  The U.S. Interior Secretary will coordinate with then creating materials for the Medicine Treaty National Historic Site.

Bill Frank made his last appearance just over a year ago, at a meeting in Suquamish with U.S. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell.

Just over a week later, he died.  “When Billy spoke, you listened: We saw that firsthand just last week when he commanded a room that included tribal leaders, fisheries officials and the secretary of the interior,” U.S. Rep. Derek Kilmer, D-Wash., recalled of the meeting.

Not bad for a guy with a ninth-grade education.”Today, because of the Boldt Decision, the state and tribes are partners in the management and preservation of resources that are foundational in the economy of the state,” Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., said in eulogizing Frank.

Just as Frank spoke of cooperation and conservation, the wildlife refuge at the mouth of the Nisqually speaks of Billy Frank Jr.

North Dakota Today, Washington State Tomorrow?



By: Water4fish


TAHOLAH, WA (5/6/15)– The exploding oil train near Heimdal, North Dakota early Wednesday morning serves as the latest reminder that the oil trains traveling the tracks here in Washington are unsafe, according to Fawn Sharp, President of the Quinault Indian Nation.

“This was just the latest in a series of oil train derailments that have resulted in crashes, followed by explosions, mountains of thick, black, toxic smoke and inevitable spills of poisonous oil that at some point make their always way into water systems, streams, rivers or marine waters,” she said.

  “Let there be no doubt. These trains are dangerous, and we are seeing more and more of them on our tracks all the time. Tribes are very concerned about them for many reasons. Not only do they jeopardize our citizens, because they are explosive and too heavy for the tracks they travel on; the oil that inevitably spills from them poisons our treaty-protected waters and aquatic resources. Also, fossil fuels are the primary cause of climate change. We all need to make some important decisions about the future.  Do we accept the major expansion of these poisonous fuels and the impacts they have on our environment, or do we opt to be good stewards of the land and work to phase them out and replace them with clean energy sources and wiser choices?”

 “These are our choices here in the Northwest, and in states across the country.  At Quinault Nation we have taken a stand against the proposed expansion of oil train traffic and terminals,” said President Sharp. Sharp is also President of the Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians, an organization of 57 Tribes encompassing six Northwest states, and Area Vice President of the National Congress of American Indians, a national organization of more than 500 Tribes.

This morning’s derailment is very similar in many ways to all the others, which have occurred in Alabama, Virginia, West Virginia and Pennsylvania, as well as numerous close calls, including Seattle, she said.  Cars run off the track, the tanks are pierced, and a spark ignites the highly volatile crude, which either comes from the North Dakota Bakken fields or oil sands in Alberta.

 In the case of this morning’s accident, a waterway known as the Big Slough runs north of the tracks near Heimdal and drains into the James River.

There were no reported injuries from the derailment of the BNSF train near Heimdal, thank God. All the residents of the tiny town did have to be evacuated, as did farms anywhere near this morning’s explosion. That was only a few dozen people. But it could have been Aberdeen, or Seattle. Then it would have been thousands, and timely evacuation could be a virtual impossibility.

 The National Transportation Safety Board sent five people the site, and the Federal Railroad Administration sent 10 investigators. But inspecting is about all they could do.  The fires caused by these explosions must burn themselves out. They’re simply too hot to handle. Some of the oil leakage could be stopped, but not much, said Sharp.

 Last week, federal regulators passed new safety rules governing crude by rail, which has become a booming business thanks to the growth in U.S. oil production. Nearly 450,000 tankers of crude moved through North America last year, up from just 9,500 in 2009.

 “The Washington State Legislature just passed a bill to enhance safety, as well, and although all safety efforts are welcome, the fact is they are not enough. The simple truth is there is no such thing as a safe oil train, no matter how strict safety standards might be.  Rail and bridge infrastructure is in desperate need of repair and renewal. But even if and when that is achieved, there will be absolutely no guarantee of safety,” she said.

“The only safe oil train is one that has no oil in it. And as painful as it may be for the oil industry to consider, the best option is to phase out the use of fossil fuels. That will take time. But this is a critical situation that needs more focus, and investment, now,” she said.

Billionaire Paul Allen Backs Initiative To Punish Wildlife Traffickers

Ken Goddard holds an elephant tusk, one of 72 the lab recieved in a poaching investigation. The case has gone cold.Amelia Templeton
Ken Goddard holds an elephant tusk, one of 72 the lab recieved in a poaching investigation. The case has gone cold.
Amelia Templeton


By Courtney Flatt, NPR

Seattle billionaire Paul Allen is financing a campaign that could ask Washington voters  to impose penalties for selling animal parts from certain endangered species.

The proposed ballot measure aims to protect 10 keystone species: elephants, rhinoceroses, tigers, lions, leopards, cheetahs, pangolins, marine turtles, sharks, and rays.

Conservation groups say they are among the most trafficked or poached species worldwide. They say illegal wildlife trafficking is the fourth largest transnational crime in the world, delivering ill-gotten profits of $20 billion annually.

Sandeep Kaushik is a political consultant for the initiative. He said  it would place in state law tough penalties beyond those imposed by federal anti-trafficking laws. People caught buying or selling animal parts or products from the 10 species covered by the proposed law would face up to five years in prison and a $10,000 fine.

Backers of the initiative say the best way to protect these endangered animals is to cut off the market where poachers can profit.

“The problem has been getting worse and we’re seeing just in the last few years more species being put at risk,” Kaushik said.

Sam Wasser, director of the University of Washington’s Center for Conservation Biology, said this initiative would help reduce wildlife trafficking in Washington state. He said right now it’s hard to police trafficking once items cross into the U.S.

“In a state like Washington where it is such an important port for materials coming in from Asia, it’s really quite critical that our state agents have the ability to apprehend the ivory,” Wasser said. “Much of the laws now refer to ivory passing across international borders, but state borders — there’s nothing.”

Wasser said the U.S. is one of the largest markets for wildlife products in the world.

“One of the biggest things is trying to deal with the demand side,” Wasser said. “It’s very, very important to have steps all along the way to have steps to increase the consequences if you’re caught and to make it harder for you to get the product in the first place.”

Allen co-founded Microsoft. His conservation philanthropy has been brought into question in 2013 when a investigation and lawsuits said his sister, Jody Allen, made employees help her smuggle giraffe bones and ivory out of Africa.

More recently, a bill in the Washington Legislature to increase trafficking penalties for ivory and rhino horns was met with pushback from the National Rifle Association, the Seattle Symphony, and antique collectors, according to The Seattle Times, which reported Sunday on the initiative proposal.

The measure’s backers say they’ve written the initiative to protect trade for antiquities and estate sales, musical instruments, and scientific and research purposes.

“We made sure that this was about targeting those people that are really a part of this international poaching and trafficking problem that is really putting all of these animals at risk,” Kaushik said.

The Humane Society of the United States, the Seattle Aquarium and the Woodland Park Zoo have also endorsed the initiative.

Kosher said New York and New Jersey have also recently implemented similar laws, which have helped curtail ivory and rhino horn trafficking.

Petitioners for the initiative must gather 246,372 valid signatures by July 2 for it to qualify for the November ballot.

9th Cir. Rejects Tribe’s Bid for Gaming Machines

By June Williams, Courthouse News Service

(CN) – The 9th Circuit denied the Tulalip Tribes’ bid for additional licenses for video gambling machines, despite the tribe’s claim other members of the state gaming compact are being treated more favorably.
The Tulalip claimed Washington allows the Spokane Tribe to lease more lottery terminals at a better rates, contrary to a “most favored” tribe guarantee for the Tulalip.
The state regulates tribes’ operations of player terminals for a tribal lottery system under a Tribal-State Gaming Compact. The Tulalip can operate 975 terminals but may increase the amount up to 4,000 by purchasing allocation rights from any Washington tribe in the compact. The procedure is known as a terminal allocation plan, or TAP.
In 2007, the Spokane Tribe joined other tribes in the gaming compact. The state allowed the tribe to make payments into an inter-tribal fund to obtain additional terminals if it couldn’t secure the machines under the TAP procedure because “few, if any” machines were available for lease, according to court documents.
The Tulalip claimed the state gave the Spokane more favorable terms by allowing the tribe an additional way to obtain terminals and petitioned to have the same opportunity by amending its compact. After the state refused, the Tulalip filed a federal complaint in 2012 saying the state breached the compact and asking for an injunction amending the agreement.
In 2013, U.S. District Judge Richard Jones granted summary judgment to the state, saying the Tulalip wanted to “cherry-pick” the benefits of the inter-tribal fund provision. The Tulalip appealed to the 9th Circuit.
A three-judge panel ruled on Friday the state is not required to adopt the Tulalip’s amendment because it didn’t “mirror the restrictions” that were in the Spokane’s compact.
Writing for the majority, Judge M. Margaret McKeown said the inter-tribal fund method “carries with it interdependent conditions and consequences” that the Tulalip’s amendment failed to include.
“We hold simply that Tulalip is not entitled as a matter of law to the more selective set of terms in its proposed amendment. The most-favored tribe clause does not allow a ‘pick and choose’ arrangement. The district court correctly entered judgment for the State. Simply put, Tulalip’s proposal does not mirror the restrictions of Appendix Spokane, and those are the terms to which the State agreed,”
The panel did not determine whether the Spokane compact was more favorable, according to the opinion.
David Giampetroni, an attorney with Kanji Katzen PLLC, which represented the Tulalip Tribes, said in an email to Courthouse News that his client is disappointed in the ruling and “respectfully disagrees with the decision reached by the court.”
“The Tribe is evaluating its options,” the attorney said.  

First Refinery Proposed For Columbia River, Records Show

by Conrad Wilson and Tony Schick,  OPB


An energy company is seeking a partnership with the Port of Longview to create a crude oil refinery on the Columbia River, according to public records obtained and released by Columbia Riverkeeper.

An agreement between Riverside Energy, Inc. and the port could initiate the development of the first refinery on the Columbia River and the first on the West Coast in 25 years. The refinery would have a capacity of 30,000 barrels per day and produce a mix of diesel, gasoline and jet fuel all primarily for regional use, according to the documents.

The oil would travel to the refinery by rail from the Bakken fields of North Dakota, creating an estimated traffic of 10 trains per month. The refined products would then travel by water.

Several trains carrying crude oil have derailed and exploded in recent years.

“This is shocking new information. Refineries are extremely polluting. Highly toxic air pollution,” Columbia Riverkeeper Executive Director Brett VandenHeuvel said. “And to combine a refinery with explosive oil trains — it’s the worst of both worlds.”

A presentation from Riverside Refining estimates the project would create more than 400 construction jobs and 150 permanent positions, with an average annual wage of $75,000. The refinery would use “state-of-the-art processing technology” and “will have a lower carbon footprint than existing West Coast refineries,” according to the documents.

The Port of Longview indicated it would make a public statement later Wednesday.

This story will be updated.

Orca Baby Boom Hits Puget Sound

In this photo taken March 30, 2015, and provided by the Pacific Whale Watch Association, a newborn orca whale swims alongside an adult whale, believed to be the mother, in the Salish Sea waters off Galiano Island, British Columbia. Jeanne Hyde/Maya's Legacy Whale Watching/AP Photo
In this photo taken March 30, 2015, and provided by the Pacific Whale Watch Association, a newborn orca whale swims alongside an adult whale, believed to be the mother, in the Salish Sea waters off Galiano Island, British Columbia. Jeanne Hyde/Maya’s Legacy Whale Watching/AP Photo


By PHUONG LE, Associated Press

The endangered population of killer whales that spend time in Washington state waters is experiencing a baby boom with a fourth baby orca documented this winter.

The newborn was spotted Monday by whale-watching crews and a naturalist in the waters of British Columbia, according to the Pacific Whale Watch Association, which represents 29 whale-watching operators in Washington and British Columbia.

The orca was swimming with other members of the J-pod, one of three families of orcas that are protected in Washington and Canada.

Ken Balcomb, a senior scientist with the Center for Whale Research on Friday Harbor, confirmed the birth to The Associated Press on Tuesday. The center keeps the official census of endangered southern resident killer whales for the federal government.

The birth brings the population to 81, still dangerously low. Listed as endangered in 2005, the whales are struggling because of pollution, lack of food and other reasons.

“This one looked quite plump and healthy,” said Balcomb, who reviewed photographs of the newborn. “We’re getting there. We wish all these babies well. They look good.”

PHOTO: In this Feb. 25, 2015 photo provided by the NOAA, a new baby orca swims alongside an adult whale, believed to be its mother, about 15 miles off the coast of Westport, Wash.

Candice Emmons/NOAA/AP Photo
PHOTO: In this Feb. 25, 2015 photo provided by the NOAA, a new baby orca swims alongside an adult whale, believed to be its mother, about 15 miles off the coast of Westport, Wash.

While he and others hailed the birth of four baby orcas since December, they cautioned that the survival rate for babies is about 50 percent.

“Given where we were four months ago, it’s certainly the trend we’re hoping for,” Brad Hanson, wildlife biologist with NOAA’s Northwest Fisheries Science Center in Seattle, said Tuesday.

“It’s still far too early to think we’re out of the woods yet,” said Hanson, who studies the orcas.

Michael Harris, executive director with the Pacific Whale Watch Association, said, “Who doesn’t love baby orcas, right?” But he, too, urged measured optimism.

“We’re going to keep a careful watch on these babies and our fingers crossed,” he added.

The newest orca was spotted Monday swimming with a calf that was born in December and a female whale. Another calf was born to the J-pod in early February, while a calf in the L-pod was observed in late February.

Balcomb said he thinks the baby’s mother could be J-16, the female whale it was swimming with Monday. But it may be some time before the relationships are sorted out, he added.

BNSF Railway Could Face Big Fines After Hazardous Spills In Washington

The view from the BNSF Railway rail yard in Spokane.Courtney Flatt
The view from the BNSF Railway rail yard in Spokane.
Courtney Flatt


By Ashley Ahearn, KUOW

Washington regulators say the region’s biggest oil-train operator should be penalized after failing to comply with reporting requirements following 14 spills of hazardous materials, including crude oil.

The state Utilities and Transportation Commission said Thursday an investigation had found that between Nov. 1 of last year and Feb. 24, BNSF Railway committed 700 violations of the state’s reporting requirement for railway spills of hazardous materials. Four of those spills involved trains carrying crude oil through Washington state.

Under the state’s requirement, BNSF was obligated to  call a toll-free number within 30 minutes of an incident.

“When a company fails to notify, that means that critical response resources might not be deployed and that really could cause potential harm to the public and the environment,” commission spokeswoman Amanda Maxwell said. “That could also lead to a delay in response and containment resources necessary to clean up the spill. That’s why that 30 minutes is vital to the response and reporting of the incident.”

Companies can face fines of $1,000 for each day such an incident goes unreported.

State officials say BNSF Railway could owe up to $700,000  for failing to inform responders about the 14 spills.

Courtney Wallace, a spokeswoman for BNSF, issued a prepared statement, saying her railway “believed we were complying in good faith with the requirements from our agency partners.”

The statement went on to say BNSF had followed guidance from state regulators with the commission, reviewed its own reporting notification process, and changed its practices to address regulators’ concerns.

According to the commission, BNSF will have the opportunity to request a hearing to respond to the allegations and ultimately the commissioners will decide the outcome.  Commissioners will consider several factors, including how serious and harmful the violations were to the public, whether the violations were intentional, and how cooperative and responsive BNSF was.