LONGVIEW, Wash. — Gov. Brian Schweitzer will meet with Cowlitz County commissioners at 10 a.m. Wednesday in Kelso, Wash., and later with Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire in Seattle to discuss a controversial proposal to build a major new coal export terminal just west of Longview, Wash.
Schweitzer has emerged as a strong proponent of Millennium Bulk Logistics' proposal to build a coal export facility at the former Reynolds aluminum site on the Columbia River. His office said he plans to tour the site Wednesday morning with Joe Cannon, Millennium's chief executive officer.
Schweitzer's meeting with county commissioners is open to the public. His meeting with Gregoire will be behind closed doors, according to her communications staff.
Millennium, owned by Australian coal conglomerate Ambre Energy, plans to export as much as 5.7 million tons of coal annually from the Powder River Basin, which stretches through southeastern Montana and Wyoming, to China and other Asian countries. The coal terminal would be a big economic boost for Montana's coal-mining industry, according to Schweitzer.
Cowlitz County commissioners in November unanimously approved a shoreline permit Millennium needs to build the facility, which the company says would employ 71 workers and create 120 construction jobs at the 416-acre site.
Chinook Ventures, which is operating a private port on the site, employs about 50 workers. Chinook is selling the buildings to Millennium, but the deal has not closed, Cannon said. Alcoa Inc. owns the land.
Last month, a coalition of environmental groups appealed the commissioners' decision to the state Shoreline Hearings Board, saying the county had failed to properly evaluate the environmental effect of expanded coal transportation. The state's Department of Ecology also filed to intervene in the hearing because the agency could be asked to approve other permits for the facility, agency officials said. The county also should consider the effect of the project on the potential to increase emissions of greenhouse gases, which contribute to global warming, Ecology officials said.
Schweitzer, a Democrat, has called for the support of fellow Democratic Gov. Chris Gregoire on the project, saying that Montana coal has provided power for Washington utilities for years. Gregoire has not taken a position on the coal export facility.
Opponents of the coal facility said the Montana governor shouldn't meddle in the decisions of Washington state officials.
“Gov. Gregoire simply asked for a more detailed analysis of coal and climate change, and Gov. Schweitzer must not want to see that analysis. It's, I think, offensive for one state to ask another not to look at the impact of the project,” said Brett VandenHeuvel, executive director of Portland-based Columbia Riverkeeper, one of four groups that filed to oppose the export terminal.