Gov. Inslee rejects oil terminal

Says risks ‘exceed potential benefits’

Governor Jay Inslee, pictured here at a May of 2017 visit to Steigerwald Lake National Wildlife Refuge near Washougal, has rejected a controversial oil terminal proposal that would have brought trains bound for the Port of Vancouver, carrying 360,000 barrels of flammable Bakken crude oil, through Camas-Washougal each day. (Post-Record file photo)

Washington Governor Jay Inslee has rejected a plan to site North America’s largest oil-by-rail terminal at the Port of Vancouver.

In a letter sent Monday to Kathleen Drew, chair of the state’s Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council (EFSEC), Inslee said he agreed with the Council’s findings that the risks of siting the proposed Vancouver Energy Tesoro Savage oil terminal at the Port of Vancouver were greater than any potential benefits.

Inslee said the project, which would have brought 360,000 barrels of highly flammable Bakken crude oil into Vancouver each day, via trains rolling straight through Columbia River Gorge communities, including Washougal and Camas, was not in the public’s best interests.

“Based on EFSEC’s recommendation, we aren’t surprised by the governor’s decision to reject the Vancouver Energy project,” said Port of Vancouver CEO Julianna Marler on Monday. “Our mission continues to be providing economic benefit to our community through leadership, stewardship and partnership in marine, industrial and waterfront development. We appreciate the governor’s recognition of our important role in regional trade and we will continue to fulfill that role.”

The governor cited three main areas of concern: the risk that the project would not withstand a large magnitude earthquake; “the likelihood of an oil spill impacting the Columbia River or reaching the Pacific Ocean;” and the project’s capacity to cause harm to workers and nearby community members.

“I am seriously concerned by the risk that a potential fire or explosion at the facility may pose to workers and the community,” Inslee stated in his letter. “The Council found that emergency responders are unlikely to be able to successfully respond to a major incident at the facility. It is unacceptable to endanger the lives of workers, individuals incarcerated nearby, visitors to the facility, as well as others in the community.”

The governor praised the Council, EFSEC staff and involved parties for their work on a project he called “unprecedented both in its scale and the scope of issues it raised,” and said that, although the oil terminal was not the right fit for the Port of Vancouver, he was “confident that our ports will continue to play an important role in regional trade, and providing jobs in clean energy.”

In a statement released Monday morning, Dan Serres, conservation director of Columbia Riverkeeper, one of several environmental advocacy groups that came out against the Tesoro Savage project, said the governor understood the danger posed by the oil-by-rail terminal.

“This project was absurdly dangerous and destructive, and Governor Inslee saw these risks clearly,” Serres said. “The threat of an earthquake or accident creating an oil spill in the Columbia River poses far too great a risk to the Columbia, its salmon and its people.”

Michael Lang, conservation director of the Friends of the Columbia River Gorge, agreed.

“This massive oil-by-rail terminal was a direct threat to the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area and every community along the rail lines,” Lang said. “Governor Inslee and the energy siting council carefully considered all the facts, correctly applied the law, and concluded that this terrible project must be denied.”

Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club, said Inslee’s decision was “a historic victory” for Washington community members who have been fighting the Tesoro Savage project “This is further proof that Big Oil is no match for communities that organize and fight back against the dirty fossil fuels of the past,” Brune said. “We invite Governor Inslee to continue this climate leadership by taking the next step and opposing all new fossil fuel projects in Washington.”

EFSEC has been reviewing the Vancouver Energy project since August of 2013.

On Jan. 9, the Port of Vancouver Board of Commissioners voted unanimously to end the controversial oil terminal lease, if Vancouver Energy could not obtain the necessary licenses, permits and approvals required to operate by March 31.

Tesoro Savage now has 30 days to appeal Inslee’s decision to Thurston County Superior Court.