OLYMPIA — The Attorney General’s Office today filed comments in the environmental review of a proposed crude oil terminal in Vancouver. The comments, filed by the AGO’s Counsel for the Environment, question whether the risk of train derailment may be higher than the current estimate and raises concerns that the state of first responder readiness to address potential oil spills and fires is not sufficiently understood.
The Tesoro Savage Vancouver Energy Distribution Terminal is currently under review by the state’s Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council (EFSEC), which released a draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) in November 2015.
“Protecting the environment and public safety are top priorities of my office,” Attorney General Bob Ferguson said. “The Counsel for the Environment advocates for the interests of the people of Washington. This project would require transporting oil through our communities — we must fully understand the potential dangers and how they would be mitigated.”
The AGO’s Counsel for the Environment (CFE) focused its comments on two areas of major concern for the public.
First, the CFE believes the analysis used to estimate the risk of oil train derailment may underestimate the frequency of possible derailments. The study used data from all state and national train derailments, but oil trains are typically longer and heavier than standard trains. Both factors may increase the risk of derailment and other accidents.
Second, the analysis of first responder readiness is incomplete. The CFE requests additional information be included in the EIS quantifying the specific resource needs, training, and full public costs necessary for first responder agencies to become prepared to combat an crude-oil related spill, fire, and/or explosion at the Port of Vancouver and along the rail route.
The DEIS relies on two surveys of fire departments and fire protection districts. Fewer than half of these fire departments and fire protection districts responded to the surveys. One survey found that “even the most metropolitan, best equipped departments consider themselves ill prepared” to respond to an oil train incident. All agencies indicated a need for more resources and training, but the draft EIS does not consider what training and equipment would be necessary, or the state and local government costs involved.
The CFE also recommends an independent verification of the first responders’ training and equipment status.
While the CFE’s comments focus on these two areas of the draft EIS, the lack of comments on other areas does not indicate approval of the adequacy of the draft EIS in other areas. Rather, the CFE urges the EFSEC to address the environmental impacts raised by other commenters and the public as it finalizes the EIS.
The AGO’s filing does not constitute support or disapproval of the project at this stage.
Once EFSEC reviews the feedback on the draft EIS, it will make any necessary changes and release a final EIS.
The EIS is only one part of the review process. EFSEC will hold an adjudicative proceeding where EFSEC will hear from the parties, including the Counsel for the Environment. After the finalization of the EIS, EFSEC then determines whether the project should be recommended to the Governor for approval. If EFSEC recommends approval, the Governor has 60 days to approve or reject the recommendation or to direct EFSEC to reconsider certain aspects of the project.
More information on the review process, including filed comments and pleadings, is available on the EFSEC website.
Counsel for the Environment
Assistant Attorney General Matthew Kernutt serves as Counsel for the Environment, representing the public and its interest in protecting the environment on proposed developments of large, non-hydro energy facilities in Washington.
Under state law, the Attorney General appoints an Assistant Attorney General as Counsel for the Environment (CFE) when EFSEC has received a site application for review. That person operates independently of EFSEC, other state agencies and parties involved in the site application.
The CFE plays an important role in the overall project review. In addition to soliciting public input, providing general information concerning the EFSEC process, helping citizens inform the EFSEC of their concerns, the CFE participates in the adjudication held before the EFSEC.
More information is available here.
The Office of the Attorney General is the chief legal office for the state of Washington with attorneys and staff in 27 divisions across the state providing legal services to roughly 200 state agencies, boards and commissions. Visit www.atg.wa.gov to learn more.
Peter Lavallee, Communications Director, (360) 586-0725; PeterL@atg.wa.gov