A group of legislators representing districts from across Washington today asked Governor Gregoire to establish a multi-agency task force to identify the statewide economic, transportation, and environmental impact of a proposed coal terminal near Bellingham.

Under federal law the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is lead agency to conduct an area-wide review of proposals to build five coal terminals exporting 150 million tons of coal per year from Washington and Oregon to Asia. The first plan, Cherry Point outside Bellingham, would result in an estimated 48 million tons of coal being transported each year with trains operating daily.

Each shipment requires a minimum of 18 trains (9 full and 9 empty), 1.5 miles long or 150 uncovered cars. The coal-laden trains would run from Spokane along the Columbia River to Vancouver and then north through the economic, residential, and business heart of Puget Sound including downtown Seattle.

The fast-approaching deadline to comment on the scope of the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) is January 21, 2013. The lawmakers—representing diverse districts from Spokane, Olympic Peninsula, Seattle, Skagit County and more–are calling upon state agencies to coordinate a cumulative list of issues, concerns and impact topics with the state Department of Ecology, a co-lead with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Whatcom County on the project.

“The people of Seattle, Tacoma, and Everett are just now awakening to the stunning implications of the proposal to make Washington a major player in the global coal export industry,” said Rep. Reuven Carlyle, a Democrat whose 36th Legislative District includes much of the Port of Seattle, Seattle waterfront, and dense neighborhoods. “As an export-driven state, we have a fiduciary obligation to study the economic, transportation, and environmental ‘externalities’ and impacts given that this would effect nearly every aspect of our state’s economy for generations,” said Carlyle.

“Governor Gregoire, Jay Inslee, Rob McKenna, and most legislators have responsibly called for a comprehensive, cumulative impacts analysis of the coal export proposal, but hands-on action is required immediately to help make that happen on the ground before the critical January 21, 2013 deadline,” said Carlyle. “We need to acknowledge that unless the multiple state agencies are instructed to formally work together to thoroughly identify potential impacts, the scope of the EIS is unlikely to include an accurate or sufficient review of economic, transportation, and infrastructure issues.”

“The state has a responsibility to do a rigorous analysis that examines how the new terminal will impact our entire state economy, environment, and transportation infrastructure,” said Rep. Kris Lytton, a Democratic legislator from Anacortes. “The only way we’ll get the full picture—accurately and objectively—is if the departments of Ecology, Transportation, and Commerce aggressively collaborate and share their data with the lead agencies conducting the formal analysis.

“Because the coal freight would be moving through hundreds of communities before reaching its destination at Cherry Point, many of us believe the state needs to examine both the positive and negative impacts in those areas as well,” said Lytton. “What happens to a small Eastern Washington town that needs to pay millions to upgrade rail crossings, or ferry terminal access to the San Juan Islands for millions of tourists? These issues are critical pieces of the puzzle and deserve to be included in the consideration of this sweeping proposal.”

Washington State House Democrats

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