Most of the coal delivered to U.S. consumers and for foreign export is transported by railroads. Citizens and local governments in Washington State are concerned about the impacts of increased rail traffic going through their communities and the impacts of proposed coal and oil export facilities at Cherry Point, Longview, Vancouver, and other potential locations. There are currently three sites proposed for coal export facilities in the Northwest that collectively could increase U.S. coal exports by about 100 million tons of coal annually. Coal transported to the proposed Gateway Pacific Terminal (GPT) at Cherry Point near Bellingham could increase coal train traffic in Seattle to as many as 18 coal trains daily.
In Washington State, new oil terminal facilities are proposed in Vancouver and Grays Harbor, and the state's five existing refineries from Tacoma to Ferndale are planning to expand.
This webpage provides general information about issues associated with coal and oil transportation in the Northwest, including environmental review of proposed projects, local government actions, and selected media coverage.
Environmental Review of Coal and Oil Facilities
Most cities and counties, other than those where facilities are located, have limited roles in the permitting of coal and oil terminals. Yet the impacts of the rail and waterborne transport of coal and oil affect many communities across the state. These impacts include health and pollution issues associated with railroad and tanker accidents, traffic congestion at rail crossings, air quality concerns, and the indirect impacts of increased greenhouse gases on the environment.
The Washington State Department of Ecology is playing a central role in the environmental review process for the proposed coal and oil facilities. Local governments are key participants in the environmental review of these major facilities, and communities across the state are interested in full disclosure of environmental impacts.
MRSC Insight Blog Posts
Washington State Resources Addressing Coal Facilities and Impacts
These websites are the best starting points for the environmental review process for the proposed Washington coal terminals. Draft EIS's are not anticipated to be issued until late in 2015.
- Environmental Impact Statement, Proposed Gateway Pacific Terminal/Cluster Spur, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Washington State Department of Ecology, and Whatcom County, co-lead agencies - Official website for the SEPA/NEPA EIS for the proposed Gateway Pacific Terminal/Custer Spur projects
- Environmental Review, Gateway Pacific Terminal at Cherry Point Proposal, Washington State Department of Ecology - Includes environmental review schedule and background materials. Ecology is co-lead with Whatcom County and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on the environmental review of the GPT.
- Millennium Bulk Terminals-Longview EIS - Central website for Cowlitz County, Department of Ecology, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers joint process to prepare a NEPA EIS and a SEPA EIS
Washington State Resources Addressing Oil Transportation
These resources provide statewide perspectives on oil transportation and its hazards and impacts.
Local Government Environmental and Permit Review
Several Washington cities and counties have central websites to address the permitting and environmental review of the coal and oil terminals.
- Whatcom County Gateway Pacific/Pacific International Terminals Project - Main portal for Whatcom County review of GPT project. Since Whatcom County is the lead agency in permitting the GPT facility at Cherry Point, the county's website is a good starting point for information on issues associated with the transportation of coal for export.
- Bellingham Gateway Pacific Terminal Regulatory Review - Information about the regulatory review process and city of Bellingham documents submitted to agencies leading the process.
- Vancouver Hot Topic - Oil and Coal Project - Vancouver's response to the Tesoro Savage oil transport project at the Port of Vancouver and the Millennium Coal Terminal proposal in Longview.
Resolutions Related to Coal Transportation
- Edmonds Resolution No. 1280, passed 07/17/2012 - Expresses concern about potential adverse impacts of increased coal traffic and requests that impacts to the city of Edmonds be addressed
- Seattle Resolution No. 31379, passed 05/29/2012 - States Seattle's opposition to the transportation of coal through Seattle
- Spokane Resolution No. 2012-0052, passed 06/19/2012 - Expresses interest regarding potential impacts of increased rail traffic passing through Spokane resulting from proposed terminal projects
- Vancouver Resolution No. M-3778, passed 07/16/2012 - Resolution requesting comprehensive review of coal export terminals to include the City of Vancouver as a party of interest in any environmental review
- Washougal Resolution No. 1048, passed 03/19/2012 - Expresses concern about potential adverse impacts of increased coal traffic and requesting authority to require an EIS
Resolutions Related to Oil Transportation
These resolutions address environmental concerns regarding oil terminals and rail transport.
- Seattle City Council Oil Trains - Includes Seattle Resolution No. 31504, passed 03/13/2014 addressing concerns about impacts. Also provides updates on the city's actions
- Spokane News Release regarding oil train resolution, passed 02/03/2014 - Calls for stronger state and federal oil transportation regulations
- Vancouver Resolution No. M-3821, passed 06/03/2014 - Expresses formal opposition to the Tesoro Savage oil terminal project
- Vancouver Resolution No. M-3820, passed 06/03/2014 - Directs the City Attorney's Office to file for EFSEC Intervener Status for oil terminal project
Environmental and Economic Studies
Some communities have conducted traffic studies and other reports to address the impact of trains that transport coal and oil passing through or stopping in their area. Most of these address the Gateway Pacific Terminal.
Background Information Regarding Coal and Oil Transportation
This section includes general information from the federal government and articles addressing rail transportation of coal and oil.
- Coal Transportation Issues, U.S. Energy Information Administration - Introduction to issues associated with rail transportation of coal, including rail transportation rates, coal production, and consumption projections
- U.S. Rail Transportation of Crude Oil: Background and Issues for Congress, Transportation Research Board, 06/09/2014 - Useful overview of the issues associated with rail transportation of crude oil
- Department of Transportation Proposes New Rail Safety Standards, by Leslie Wollack, National League of Cities, 08/01/2014 - Proposed standards for oil transport by rail would strengthen tank car designs and force shippers to test hazardous materials before shipping
- AWC Coal Train Webinar series materials - Webinars held on 10/31/2012, and 11/14/2012 to provide information to cities about proposed coal export facilities and the associated rail traffic
News Articles Regarding Rail Transportation of Coal and Oil
There has been extensive media coverage of the issues associated with the proposed rail export terminals and the increased train traffic associated with these terminals. The following are some selected news articles on rail transportation of coal and oil in the Northwest. Articles are listed in reverse date order, with most recent articles first:
- Monte Council Says 'No' to Oil Trains, The Vidette, by Brendan Carl, October 21, 2014 - Montesano adopted resolution opposing oil trains and condemning the possible construction of three marine terminals for crude oil at Grays Harbor
- Whatcom, Bellingham elected officials say oil-train rules could be improved, by Ralph Schwartz, The Bellingham Herald, July 23, 2014
- 2nd Thoughts on 3 Oil Terminals, Grays Harbor County projects that were easily embraced last year are now challenged, by Aaron Corvin, The Columbian, July 13, 2014
- Six Things You Should Know About the Pacific Northwest's Largest Oil Train Terminal in Vancouver, Wash. by Rob Davis,The Oregonian, April 14, 2014 - Addresses potential impacts of oil train terminal
- Oil Trains Return to Northwest in Big Way: Regulators Working With the Rail Industry Can Make Oil Trains Even Safer, by John Talton, Seattle Times, March 1, 2014
- Coal and Oil: A Mix to Fuel NW fears, by Floyd McKay, Crosscut, January 29, 2014 - Summarizes some of the cumulative effects of coal and oil transportation
Series on Coal and Oil from Sightline
Sightline Institute researches best practices in public policy for a sustainable Northwest.
- The Northwest's Pipeline on Rails, Sightline Daily - Frequently updated blog on shipping of crude oil by train to Northwest refineries and port terminals
- The Wrong Side of the Tracks, Sightline Daily - Analysis of the traffic impacts of oil and coal trains in communities throughout the Northwest
- Northwest Coal Exports, Sightline Project - Series of articles posted by Eric de Place of Sightline; useful regular updates on this topic