By Tim Manns
Returning in mid-October from a month’s absence I learned there had been significant movement on some conservation issues and little on others. Here’s a brief, partial overview:
- Millennium Bulk Terminals-Longview: Washington Department of Ecology denied a key permit (water quality certification under the federal Clean Water Act) to the proposed Millennium Bulk Terminals - Longview. The proponent is appealing the decision, but Ecology’s decision certainly bodes well for the eventual demise of this project to build North America’s largest coal export terminal. If built, the facility would significantly prolong dependence on coal and a carbon-based economy. It’s the last of 6 coal export terminals proposed for the Northwest in recent years. Concerted public opposition, insistence on thorough examination of environmental impacts, and economic realities have sunk each proposal in turn.
- Skagit County-Robert K. Weidner: Another public records request was submitted to Skagit County related to the subject of last month’s conservation report. The county has been slow to make available all the requested documents related to the retention of Robert K. Weidner for lobbying services in Washington, D.C. We hope to soon know more about what our county commissioners have been paying Weidner to do on management of national public lands, the Endangered Species Act, and other topics pertinent to Audubon’s interests. Although Skagit County has long contracted with this lobbyist, his anti-environmental activities have intensified following last November’s election, and our county’s payments to him have reached an all-time high.
- Clean Products Upgrade Project-Tesoro March Point Refinery: Earlier this year, Skagit County and Tesoro (new name: “Andeavor”) issued the final Environmental Impact Statement for the proposed “Clean Products Upgrade Project” at Tesoro’s March Point refinery. Among other things this would equip the refinery to produce xylene, a toxic precursor to various plastics. As the market for transportation fuels becomes more uncertain, companies such as Tesoro/Andeavor are looking for ways to profit from crude oil by producing other products. The Final EIS’s responses to Skagit Audubon’s expressed concerns were superficial at best. The EIS lays the groundwork for the multiple required permits. On November 2, Skagit County will take public comment on the project’s Shoreline Substantial Development Permit Skagit Audubon will participate. For information, go to https://www.skagitcounty.net/Departments/PlanningAndPermit/tesoroclean.htm
- Marbled Murrelet Habitat: At the October annual meeting of Washington’s Audubon chapters (ACOW), Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz stated that the Department of Natural Resources will soon release its long-awaited plan for managing marbled murrelet habitat on state trust lands in compliance with the federal Endangered Species Act. Skagit Audubon submitted comments on this matter several times over the last five years. We’re hopeful DNR is seriously considering an alternative put forward by a coalition of conservation groups focused on reversing the rapid decline of this federal and state-listed species. Unlike the 6 alternatives developed by DNR, when run through the best available model this “Conservation Alternative” leads to recovery of the murrelet rather than its eventual extinction in Washington.
- Atlantic Farmed Salmon: The September escape of many thousands of farmed Atlantic salmon from net pens off Cypress Island has greatly increased scrutiny and criticism of fish farming along Washington’s coasts. At the meeting of the Washington State Audubon Conservation Committee the day before ACOW, there was discussion and passage of a resolution opposing additional net pens and supporting legislation to end their presence in the state altogether.
- Blanchard Mountain: The funding that should, in a round-about way, protect Blanchard Mountain’s core 1,600 acres from logging is in the state’s proposed Capital Budget, which has not yet passed.
- Audubon Priorities 2018 Legislative Session: Audubon State Director Gail Gatton, speaking at ACOW last month, said that Audubon’s priorities in the 2018 legislative session will include 1) Securing funding in support of science and mapping needs in Willapa Bay (an essential area for shorebirds and waterfowl) and 2) Carbon pricing legislation. Audubon participates in the Environmental Priorities Coalition composed of about 20 conservation groups which collaborate to choose a few legislative goals each session. These may be in addition to goals specific to Audubon.
Conservation issues and the Audubon mission are about ensuring the kind of world we want for people – and for birds and other living things - backed by a deep realization that ultimately we are not separate. Their fate is ours as well.