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Environmental Groups Say Oregon Got It Wrong With Oil Terminal Permit

Oil trains rest on the tracks in Portland, on the line toward on terminal in Clatskanie. Environmental groups claim that terminal's air quality permit was issued incorrectly.
Tony Schick
Oil trains rest on the tracks in Portland, on the line toward on terminal in Clatskanie. Environmental groups claim that terminal's air quality permit was issued incorrectly.

PORTLAND -- Local and national environmental groups filed a petition Friday claiming Oregon erred in granting an air quality permit to Oregon’s largest oil train terminal.

Their petition claims the Department of Environmental Quality should have considered pollution from the trains and ships that move oil in and out of the terminal, rather than just the terminal itself.

Columbia Riverkeeper, the Center for Biological Diversity, Sierra Club, Neighbors for Clean Air and the Northwest Environmental Defense Center jointly filed the petition challenging the permit for the facility at Port Westward, about 60 miles west of Portland.

If pollution from trains and ships were included, the grand total would put the facility in a class that requires a much more rigorous environmental review, said Lauren Goldberg, an attorney for the Columbia Riverkeeper.

“That air pollution permit didn’t even come close to considering all the potential pollution at the site,” Goldberg said. “We’re talking about looking at all of the sources of air pollutants, not just drawing a box around portions of this facility but not the ones that move.”

The petition also claims DEQ’s ultimate decision was based on material that wasn’t available during the public comment period, meaning the public never had the chance to weigh in on some of the key factors driving the decision.

“At this time, when it comes to the petition, we received it today, we’re review it, exploring all of the points in it that have been raised and developing our responses,” David Monroe, Air Quality Manager at the DEQ said.

Monroe declined to comment further on the petition.

The terminal in question used to be an ethanol plant, but went out of business shortly after opening in 2009.

It’s now owned by Global Partners LP. When the company bought it and in 2012 turned it into a waypoint for Bakken crude oil brought by train from North Dakota, DEQ approved its permit change without input from the public.

When Global Partners far exceeded that permit, and public scrutiny turned to DEQ for allowing the change in the first place, the agency began the process of issuing a new permit.

A spokeswoman for Global Partners was contacted for this story, but the company has not returned a call requesting comment.

DEQ received roughly 1,400 comments regarding this permit change, many of them citing concerns about the safety of oil trains. Some residents along the rail lines have been vocal about their disappointment in DEQ’s permitting process.

“If the DEQ’s name is environmental quality, I don’t see how they’re maintaining the quality of our environment when they only considering this tiny narrow perspective,” said Annie Christensen, a resident of St. Helens, Oregon, and an advocate against coal and oil trains.

Oil trains have been drawing scrutiny from environmental groups, regulators and lawmakers for explosions and spills, but air quality concerns have also become a prominent issue in other parts of the country, including California and New York.

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