Sightline, the lefty environmental think tank, released a report today that frames the Pacific Northwest's fossil fuel infrastructure, specifically pending fossil fuel projects such the Cherry Point coal terminal, as "ground zero" for the environmental movement's battle against greenhouse gas emissions.

Identifying 26 new coal terminal, oil-pipeline, oil-by-rail, or natural gas pipeline projects in Canada , Washington, and Oregon that have come online since 2012 and/or are cued up to come online, Sightline Policy Director Eric de Place reports: "These plans would be capable of delivering enough fuel to release 822 million metric tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere each year." 


De Place provides some sound bite context, saying that the infamous XL Pipeline would only carry enough oil to produce 149 million metric tons. “If Keystone XL is ‘game over for the climate,’ Northwest coal, oil, and gas exports are like the game never even started,” de Place says in a statement, explaining that the 26 projects he's talking about are new capacity for the Pacific Northwest. 

From the Sightline fossil fuel export report: "In other words, if all of the coal export terminals, oil-by-rail facilities, oil pipelines, and natural gas pipelines planned for the Pacific Northwest are completed and fully utilized, the region could export fossil fuels carrying five times as much climate-warming carbon as Keystone XL." 
"The Gateway Pacific Coal Terminal should not be built. It’s an environmental disaster."—Sightline's Eric de Place

De Place says the controversial proposed Gatway Pacific coal export terminal, one of the 26 projects on his list, "would be the largest coal export facility in North America, with a capacity of 48 million metric tons annually." 

The Cherry Point coal terminal already faces serious opposition in Seattle because of the projected 18 coal train trips a day, with a 7,000 foot train arriving every 1.3 hours blocking major freight intersections. 

The Cherry Point terminal is located in Ferndale along with another project on Sightline's list, a BP oil refinery. The Sightline report notes: "By far  the largest refinery in the Northwest, BP’s Cherry Point Refinery is located on Puget Sound. It can refine 230,000 [barrels per day]. Plant managers built a $60 million rail-car receiving and unloading facility that enables the refinery to accept 70,000 [barrels per day]. It began receiving oil trains in December 2013."

Ferndale is home to state Sen. Doug Ericksen (R-43, Ferndale), who chairs the Senate environmental committee. He was also a member of the legislative task force on greenhouse gas emissions, where he clashed with the Democrats and Gov. Inslee over plans to rein in carbon emissions. Ericksen's standoff with Inslee led to Inslee unilateral push to lower carbon emissions

Ericksen is facing opposition from anti-coal train activists in his current reelection campaign, one of five key races for control of the senate.

He says the Sightline study is "severely flawed." He says: "[Sightline's] CO2 emission numbers seem to assume that if these facilities are not built, that other nations will not provide coal to China or that we will stop refining oil in Washington state. The crude by rail from Bakken [in eastern Montana and western North Dakota] is replacing Alaskan crude and overseas crude. So you're not seeing a net increase at the facilities. It's just replacing where it comes from.  So your CO2 footprint is basically neutral." 

Not so, says de Place. He says the carbon footprint goes up because the Bakken oil frees up the Alaskan, Canadian, and foreign oil to go elsewhere, just adding to the glut. Meanwhile, the Montana and North Dakota oil, de Place contends, is seeking west coast ports to China, so the reverse argument—that the Bakken crude will still be broadly in play—doesn't quite work. More important, de Place says, even if you took all the oil trains to refineries numbers out of his report, 38 million metric tons annually out of the 822 million metric tons, "you'd still be at five Keystone XL pipelines."  

As for the Cherry Point coal terminal, Ericksen says: "Coal is a cheap energy source, and as we transition into the future into other sources of energy, you do it in a cost effecdtive way. That is why my committee focused in on nuclear energy to try and identify viable new modes of electricity production."

"Am I going to do an EIS that has to do an analysis of the methane produced by a cow in China because I'm exporting alfalfa?"—Cherry Point area state Sen. Doug Ericksen (R-42, Ferndale)

Referring to the current environmental impact statement (EIS) process, Sen. Ericksen says, "It's in the permitting process right now. If they can meet all the environmental requirements and produce a good project, I'd rather have the coal being shipped out of Washington state where we get the jobs than shipping it out of British Columbia."

Skeptical of coal train opponents, Ericksen adds: "Coal trains are already moving through Seattle and Whatcom County on its way to Canada. If your concern is about coal trains going through, that's going to happen because of coal going into Canada. The traffic is already coming in general." 

Whatcom County and the state's Department of Ecology, unsatisfied with the feds' limited evaluation of the Cherry Point project, broadened the environmental impact statement to include the global impact of the exports. Ericksen accuses the agencies of "overreach" and says it's unfair to pick and choose which projects have to meet broader greenhouse gas emission standards. "How come Boeing is not subject to the same rules? Are they going to do an analysis of how a 787 is used going from Poland to Moscow? Is that going to be part of [a Boeing facility] EIS? When the governor went out to pick and choose winners and losers that's not good for the economy in general.  Am I going to do an EIS that has to do an analysis of the methane produced by a cow in China because I'm exporting alfalfa? How far do you take it?"

Asked about the BP refinery specifically, Ericksen cited  his own oil train bill was "the most comprehensive oil train bill last session," pointing to $10 million in first responder money and the barrel tax he put on the trains.  The bill stalled in his own senate. Environmentalists said Ericksen's bill was a  watered down version of a Democratic bill, which also stalled.   

Ericksen has gotten maxed out donations from BNSF, a partner in the Cherry Point coal train venture, and from BP. Ericksen's Democratic opponent, Seth Fleetwood has not gotten any contributions from either company. 

Sightline wants a moratorium on oil trains."Consistent with a resolution recently passed by the Washington firefighters union," de Place tells me, "the state should put an immediate moratorium on the oil train deliveries at least until such time as we can guarantee they can be moved safely. That would mean suspending permission for the BP Refinery at Ferndale to receive oil trains." 

As for the Cherry Point coal terminal, de Place says: "The Gateway Pacific Coal Terminal should not be built. It’s an environmental disaster, a net loser for the regional economy, and an affront to the Lummi Nation and the integrity of Puget Sound."


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