Linking local permits to China?

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by John Ledger
Associated Oregon Industries

In another politicized northwest environmental permitting situation, Washington’s Department of Ecology issued a new ad hoc requirement for a proposed coal terminal transfer/shipping project – an emissions evaluation for when the coal is burned in China.

Oregon agencies have come under criticism for allegedly dragging their heels on coal transfer applications, very low emitting facilities, although the China syndrome has not been invoked.

Ideally, when a permit to construct is issued, agencies require the use of certain technology, application of standards and evaluation of local impacts. If the rules are met, the company gets the permit. The process should be fair and predicable.

Ecology’s ad hoc decision to incorporate the transported product’s use by third parties on the other side of the world into the local permit review process is worrisome for several reasons. In addition to widely expanding the scope of any permit application, its selected application increases the perception, already rife in the northwest, that how your permit gets processed depends on how much you are liked or not liked by the powers that be and pressure groups.

Ecology claims it can take such action absent current legislative authorization or controls. Oregon has not invoked such a policy and it is unknown if there will be legislation proposed in 2014 or 2015.

In an article by Erick Smith, Washington State Wire, Washington Public Ports Association’s, Eric Johnson notes, “This is what allows agencies to run amuck, this gridlock in the legislative process,” he says. “It is not about coal, it is not about the Gateway Pacific Terminal, it is about a state agency that believes that they are able to go out and make subjective decisions based on partisan objectives, and that is very troubling.”

“While they say today it is not their intent to take into account CO2 in airplanes or big-rig trucks or other things that we export, nothing says they can’t change their mind tomorrow if they get some pressure from a special interest group.”

According to the article, which can be read here, the ruling sent “shock waves” through the Washington business community, heavily dependent on exports and the viability of the Ports.