Missoula City Council passed a resolution Monday night requesting that the Army Corps of Engineers expand the scope of an environmental impact statement at a West Coast coal port to include potential dangers to the local community. The Millennium Bulk Terminal in Longview, Wash., is the second port to prompt such a request. Coal from Wyoming and Montana destined for China would pass through Missoula, prompting unease over increased rail traffic and health issues.
The city's last resolution, adopted in May 2012, asked that the Army Corps consider those concerns over a proposed terminal in Cherry Point, Wash. The Army Corps declined, but the resolution did compel the Washington Department of Ecology to assess problems tied to coal shipments to the Gateway Pacific Terminal. Missoula City Councilman Jason Wiener hopes the latest resolution will at least result in similar attention.
"It would also be nice if the Army Corps decided to look at the terminal as a catalyst for impacts that are going to happen further up the line," Wiener says. "I don't have great hope of that."
Public comment overwhelmingly supported the proposal. But Wiener's resolution did spark opposition from some in Montana. Count on Coal Montana, a state-based pro-mining campaign, issued a statement alleging that the resolution was the result of pressure from outside environmental groups. Spokesperson Shelby DeMars says this proposal was "even more ludicrous" than the 2012 resolution in light of the Army Corps' previous refusal.
"It just goes to show that this is not an effort that is stemming from Montanans," DeMars says. "This is not an effort that is even stemming out of valid concerns ... It does nothing more than give environmental groups something more to rally around."
Crow Tribal Chairman Darrin Old Coyote sent a letter last week urging the council to "at least remain neutral on this issue." The tribe entered into an agreement earlier this year with Cloud Peak Energy to extract up to 1.4 billion tons of coal from the reservation, promising jobs and economic stimulus. "We must do all we can to see that the construction of new coal export facilities is not impeded unreasonably," Old Coyote wrote.
Wiener understands the tribe's concerns, but he's not even sure the Millennium terminal will be a destination for coal from Crow. Cloud Peak began negotiating last year for permission to ship 5 million tons of coal a year through Longview, but those negotiations stalled out this summer.