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State board denies appeal of Andeavor Anacortes refinery permit

October 4, 2018

The Andeavor Anacortes Refinery operates in December 2017 as seen from the Tommy Thompson Trail.

The state Shoreline Hearings Board dismissed an appeal this week of a permit and environmental analysis for an Andeavor Anacortes Refinery project.

The refinery’s Clean Products Upgrade Project has been contentious due to environmental concerns. The appeal, brought by a coalition of environmental groups, pertained to a shoreline development permit issued by Skagit County and the thoroughness of an Environmental Impact Statement that assesses the project.

The project will include upgrading and building new equipment to reduce sulfur in fuels, reduce emissions from the refinery and enable the extraction of xylene during the refining process for shipment to Asia. The refinery plans to produce 15,000 barrels of xylene per day, which would increase vessel traffic by 60 trips per year.

The Environmental Impact Statement, or EIS, was completed by Skagit County Planning and Development Services. Skagit County Hearing Examiner Wick Dufford approved the shoreline development permit following completion of the EIS.

The coalition of environment groups first appealed the permit and thoroughness of the EIS to the Skagit County Board of Commissioners. After the commissioners denied that appeal in March, the groups appealed to the state.

The groups said in a news release Tuesday that they are disappointed in the Shoreline Hearings Board’s decision, which was made Sunday, according to appeal documents.

“Today’s decision by the Shoreline Hearings Board perpetuates the failure of government to hold polluters accountable, fails to follow the law of Washington state, and fails to protect our climate and our communities,” Sierra Club Northwest Campaign Representative Stephanie Hillman said in the release.

Their environmental groups’ concerns with the refinery’s project include the threats of increased vessel traffic including the potential for an oil or chemical spill and impacts to the endangered Southern Resident orcas in the region, increases in greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to climate change, the production and shipment of the chemical compound xylene, and the use of xylene in the manufacture of plastics and other synthetic materials that are increasingly polluting the world’s oceans.

The organizations — including Stand.earth, RE Sources for Sustainable Communities, Friends of the San Juans, Friends of the Earth, Sierra Club, Puget Soundkeeper Alliance and Evergreen Islands — said in the release they believe the Shoreline Hearings Board decision was flawed and they are considering taking further legal action against the refinery project.

The permit at issue is for the construction of equipment to reduce emissions at the refinery’s dock. It is one of several the refinery needs for the project.

The EIS is a document required under the state Environmental Policy Act to evaluate the potential impacts of major projects. The EIS prepared by Skagit County concluded the project would have no significant environmental impacts that could not be mitigated or would not be addressed in permits required for construction.

The environment groups remain unconvinced, arguing that the project involves a new use for the refinery, which should require a different, more rigorous type of permit, and that the EIS did not adequately address potential environmental impacts.

“The manufacture and export of xylenes poses a new and dangerous threat to the Puget Sound region. This project has not received the appropriate scrutiny,” Alyssa Barton, Policy Analyst and Executive Coordinator for the Puget Soundkeeper Alliance, said in the release.

The summary judgment the Shorelines Hearings Board filed Sunday reached the following conclusions:

— Use of the refinery dock for a marine vapor emissions control system is not a new use, since it will not expand the footprint of the dock, which has been used for decades to move a variety of petroleum products to and from ships at the refinery.

— The natural gas pipe that will be part of the emissions control system is not, by technical definition, a pipeline.

— The challenge of whether the EIS is adequate or whether details within it are accurate is untimely, meaning too long after the document was completed and government agencies began issuing related permits.

The environmental groups, represented by Crag Law Center, may petition the Shoreline Hearings Board to reconsider its decision or may further appeal it, according to the release.

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