Lawmakers from three states toured a proposed coal export terminal in Longview on Monday, touting how the project would provide well-paying jobs in Washington, Montana and Wyoming.
Once fully operational, the proposed facility at Millennium Bulk Terminals in Longview would ship overseas about 48.5 million tons of coal a year, an amount the state Department of Ecology says would equal about half of the nation’s current coal exports.
Legislators from Wyoming and Montana said they need a way to ship coal from their mines in the Powder River Basin to markets in Asia, particularly China.
“Our products need to get to international markets, and to do that, they’ve got to get to the sea, and they’ve got to get to a facility like this to get overseas to our customers,” said Montana state Rep. Jeff Essmann, R-Billings, while visiting.
“We need the jobs, we need the investment,” Essmann added during a news conference at the site, which is where the former Reynolds Metals aluminum smelter once operated.
The proposed coal export terminal has been the subject of controversy, partly because of concerns about how it could affect the environment. About 16 trains per day would travel to and from the facility once it reaches full capacity, state officials said.
Protesters greeted lawmakers as they toured the proposed terminal site, holding signs with messages such as “clean air, not coal dust.” The Department of Ecology said it has already received more than 215,000 comments on the proposal.
“The livability of our community is important,” said Susan Lee Schwartz, one of the protesters who showed up Monday at Millennium Bulk Terminals. Schwartz, who held a sign reading, “No coal exports. …We can do better,” said she was worried about how coal dust might affect local air quality.
Some of the lawmakers and business leaders who visited the Millennium site said they were disappointed in the Ecology Department’s announcement last week that the agency will take additional time to complete an environmental review of the project.
Ecology is working with Cowlitz County and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to complete the environmental impact statement, which must occur before permitting of the project can proceed.
While the agencies had previously expected to complete the environmental review in November, they now say the process won’t be complete until early in 2016.
In a joint statement last week, the agencies said the previous timeline was “based on an ambitious schedule.” The environmental review began in 2013.
A spokesman for the Department of Ecology said the average federal environmental review takes about 3.5 years.
Millennium Bulk Terminals estimates that if the terminal project goes forward, it will provide about 1,350 construction jobs in the Longview area, and indirectly support an additional 1,300 jobs while construction is underway.
Once finished, the company said the terminal would employ 135 people and indirectly support another 165 jobs.
Washington state Sen. Tim Sheldon, D-Potlatch, said the local economic benefit of the project makes it a good one for the state.
“I think this is just a great partnership with our friends in Montana and Wyoming to really make an impact here in Washington,” said Sheldon, who aligns himself with Republicans in the Senate. “The best thing about it is the economy and the families that will benefit here in Longview and in Cowlitz County.”
All told, four lawmakers from Montana visited the proposed terminal site Monday, along with four lawmakers from Wyoming and about a half-dozen Washington legislators. Representatives of labor and business groups also attended.