The Port of Vancouver in Washington. Photo: Washington State Department of Transportation
Environment | National

Treaty tribes cheer as Washington governor puts end to oil project

Tribes with treaty rights along the Columbia River are praising Washington Gov. Jay Inslee (D) for killing a controversial oil project.

The Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission said Inslee heard its concerns about the proposed Tesoro Savage oil terminal. Tribes believe the project threatens the river and salmon recovery efforts.

"Today, the governor’s decision on the Tesoro-Savage oil terminal showed that the health of the Columbia River and the safety of its citizens matters most," Jaime A. Pinkham, the executive director of the commission, said in a statement on Monday. "The denial of Vancouver Energy’s permit to build the largest oil-by-rail terminal in the nation is a decision that we all celebrate."

The terminal had already been dealt a major setback when a key state agency voted to deny a permit for the project. Inslee said he agreed with the Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council's position that the threat of oil spills, earthquakes and other disasters was too great to be ignored.

"When weighing all of the factors considered against the need for and potential benefits of the facility at this location, I believe the record reflects substantial evidence that the project does not meet the broad public interest standard necessary for the council to recommend site certification," Inslee wrote in a decision letter on Monday.

The project, which would be located at the Port of Vancouver along the Columbia River, was pitched as the largest oil-by-rail terminal in North America. It was proposed by two companies, Tesoro, now known as Andeavor, and Savage Companies as a major economic investment in the region.

"With this decision, the governor is rejecting much‐needed family‐wage jobs and over $2 billion in economic value for Southwest Washington," the Vancouver Energy partnership said in a statement. "The decision also forgoes the opportunity to bolster America’s energy security by providing state‐of‐the‐art infrastructure that enables environmental benefits and a cleaner energy future."

The backers did not announce whether they plan to sue Inslee for his decision, only saying "we are evaluating our options" for the next steps in the matter.

Treaty tribes have been alarmed about the possibilities of 120,000 barrels of oil coming into the port every day, especially after an oil train derailed in neighboring Oregon within their usual and accustomed fishing grounds. Some of the oil from that spill made it into the Columbia River.

Separately, the Swinomish Tribe is suing in federal court over the increase in oil trains running through its reservation in Washington. A final decision in the case hasn't been reached.