Environmentalists ask US Army Corps to look at big picture on coal

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GRANTS PASS, Ore. — Environmental groups and a public health organization want the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to consider the big picture — from mining in Wyoming to air pollution in China — before allowing development of three Northwest ports to ship up to 100 million metric tons of coal a year to Asia.

The groups filed a formal petition Wednesday asking the corps to consider all three ports together — two in Washington and one in Oregon — as well as the environmental and health effects of more coal mining, massive coal trains and greenhouse gas emissions.

“We are deeply concerned that each of these projects will go through environmental review without an opportunity to consider the bigger picture of what it means for the region if all or some of the proposed terminals are built and operated, particularly in communities distant from the terminals themselves,” the petition said.

Corps of Engineers spokesman Scott Clemans said they are currently looking at the ports individually, and considering the local impacts, such as building docks, dredging and changes to wetlands.

He said they would have to decide the current analyses are inadequate to do something broader.

The corps is looking at proposals to develop facilities along the Columbia River at Longview, Wash., and the Port of Morrow, Ore., and at Cherry Point near Bellingham, Wash. The two Washington ports are being analyzed with an environmental impact statement. The Oregon port is being looked at with a less demanding environmental analysis.

Supporters of developing the ports said the current process is fine.

“We believe that the environmental impact study the Corps is now doing is the way to go,” said Lauri Hennessey, spokeswoman for the Alliance for Northwest Jobs and Exports. “There’s no need for anything else. We believe this is just a stall tactic.”

Last week, a group of 57 tribes, The Affiliated tribes of Northwest Indians, adopted a resolution opposing the coal ports.

“Our treaties and natural resources and our way of life is in jeopardy, and we are left with no other option than to fully oppose any and all current and proposed coal transport and export projects in Washington and Oregon,” Yakima Nation Chairman Harry Smiskin said in a statement.

The governors of Oregon and Washington have called on the White House to require a full examination of the coal exports’ effect on global air quality.

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