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Environmental Groups Challenge Permit for Oil Refinery Export Expansion

MOUNT VERNON, WA — On April 4, seven local and regional environmental organizations appealed Skagit County’s approval of a project that would ship hundreds of millions of gallons of toxic chemicals through the Salish Sea every year, much of it destined for Asia. The groups maintain that the approval for the Tesoro (recently renamed Andeavor) Anacortes Refinery petrochemical expansion project did not receive a proper review and that the environmental impact statement ignored threats to a healthy Salish Sea and livable climate. The coalition including Stand.earth, RE Sources for Sustainable Communities, Friends of the San Juans, Friends of the Earth, Sierra Club, Puget Soundkeeper Alliance and Evergreen Islands filed the appeal with the state Shorelines Hearings Board, challenging a Shoreline Substantial Development Permit that the Skagit County Board of Commissioners upheld on March 6. Nearly 7,500 public commenters had pressed Skagit County for a careful review, and nearly 200 citizens attended a February 27 hearing on the issue.

The coalition requests that the State Shorelines Hearings Board vacate the permit and require additional environmental review. That review, performed by Skagit County staff, failed to adequately consider the impacts from increased vessel traffic in the Salish Sea, increased risk of petrochemical and oil spills, increased emissions of greenhouse gases, increased impacts to air and water quality and increased threats to public health and safety. It also overlooked increased impacts to fish and wildlife resources — including the endangered Southern Resident Killer Whales. Governor Inslee recently signed an Executive Order instructing state agencies to take aggressive action to recover Southern Resident killer whales because they are “an iconic and treasured species in Washington and throughout the Pacific Northwest.”

The groups are also appealing the decision to only require a Shoreline Substantial Development Permit, instead of a stronger Shoreline Conditional Use Permit. The more rigorous permit is required when older facilities propose new uses in the shoreline area, and when large bulk transfer operations are involved. Because of the unique risks associated with these types of projects, the State Department of Ecology is responsible for approving shoreline conditional uses.

The groups’ appeal can be read online here.

Following the announcement, environmental organizations issued the following statements:

“This project’s potential for doing irreparable environmental harm to our Salish Sea is why our environmental coalition came together in a steadfast effort to hold governments and industry to the highest standards. Skagit County has failed to properly regulate new industrial activity and its impacts. This project will transform the existing wharf into a petrochemical export terminal, a new use that was never before been considered or approved. We are acting today to protect not only the Padilla Bay National Estuarine Reserve and the Fidalgo Bay Aquatic Reserve – both with shorelines designated Shoreline of Statewide Significance – but also Fidalgo, Guemes, and Samish Islands,” said Tom Glade, President of Evergreen Islands.

“This project would increase air pollution, and that needs to be properly factored into the decision. Last year, the Shorelines Hearings Board ruled that Cowlitz County had improperly estimated the greenhouse gas emissions and impacts of a project in the same ways that Skagit County has now. We are confident that in this case too, the work will have to be redone.” – Eddy Ury, Clean Energy Program Manager for RE Sources for Sustainable Communities. 

“The Salish Sea is irreplaceable and this project unnecessarily puts it at risk. The Environmental Impact Statement was deeply flawed, failed to account for the acoustic impacts on Southern Resident Killer Whales and failed to account for the real risk of a worst-case spill. This project would mean 60 new petrochemical vessels coming to Anacortes every year. Many of these would be the under-regulated articulated tug barges (ATBs); in November 2016 an ATB ran aground, sank, and spilled over 100,000 liters of diesel near Bella Bella. Just one year later an ATB’s “emergency situation” came close to causing another spill in the same location in British Columbia. A spill from this project’s vessels could cause far greater environmental and economic impacts.” -Stephanie Buffum, Executive Director with Friends of the San Juans.

“We are going to keep pushing to get this right. Tesoro’s plan is to ship massive quantities of petrochemicals through the community. The environmental study downplays the risk of a major spill and the impact from climate pollution” said Chris Winter, co-director of Crag Law Center (crag.org), which is representing the appealing organizations. “We can’t trust the oil industry to keep our communities and environment safe. This case is about holding industry accountable and protecting the public from yet another plan to export fossil fuels to foreign countries.”

Background

Xylenes are toxic, flammable petrochemicals used to make plastic and synthetics. The Andeavor Anacortes Refinery petrochemical expansion project would add capacity and allow the refinery to begin producing and exporting 15,000 barrels (630,000 gallons) of xylenes per day for export to Asia. It would increase Salish Sea tanker traffic by an additional five tankers per month.

More than 7,500 people submitted comments on the project’s draft environmental impact statement (EIS), the majority of which asked Skagit County to address concerns over worker safety standards, petrochemical spills in the Salish Sea, risks to endangered orcas, massive increases in the pollution that causes global warming, and use of the new facility for crude oil export. Commenters also asked the county to separately review the xylene export and clean products upgrade components of the project, while properly accounting for greenhouse gas pollution.

In July 2017, Skagit County Planning and Development Services issued the project’s final environmental impact statement, just two months after the public comment period on the draft EIS. The final EIS did not adequately address concerns in many areas.

In November 2017, more than 100 people attended a public hearing on the project’s Shoreline Substantial Development Permit. The overwhelming majority of them were there to continue to highlight flaws in the project’s final EIS, and to call on the Skagit County Hearing Examiner to deny the crucial shoreline permit for the project.

On February 27, the Skagit County Board of Commissioners held a two hour hearing with presentations by attorneys for the appellants, and Tesoro and comments by parties of record. The hearing was attended by more than 100 people.  The Board announced their decision to uphold the Hearing Examiner’s decision on March 9.

Communications contact: Patrick Davis, (202) 222-0744, pdavis@foe.org

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