A legal battle continues over the Marathon Anacortes Refinery’s plans to produce a chemical compound for shipment overseas and to reduce the sulfur content of its fuels.
A Thurston County Superior Court judge recently ruled in favor of a coalition of environment groups that argued it was unfairly denied the right to appeal Skagit County’s Environmental Impact Statement, or EIS, for the project.
That earlier appeal, made to the state Shorelines Hearings Board in October 2018, may now be revisited, according to a news release from Crag Law Center that is representing the environment groups.
The appeal to Thurston County Superior Court was the third from the coalition of environment groups, which unsuccessfully appealed the project to the Skagit County Board of Commissioners and to the state Shorelines Hearings Board.
The groups — which include Stand.Earth, RE Sources for Sustainable Communities, Friends of the San Juans, Friends of the Earth, Sierra Club, Puget Soundkeeper Alliance and Evergreen Islands — continue to fight because they believe the EIS released in July 2018 falls short of addressing impacts the project may have on the global climate and on the region’s endangered orca whales.
“We need to re-evaluate the impacts on the climate, on the Salish Sea and on the Southern Resident killer whales,” Stand.Earth Field Director Alex Ramel said.
The decision about a year ago by the Shorelines Hearings Board said that only an appeal of the first permit issued was allowed and that therefore the environment coalition’s appeal was out of order, according to the release.
The environment groups argued in the appeal to Thurston County Superior Court that their earlier appeal should have been allowed because they chose to focus on the most relevant permit granted under the EIS, rather than the first.
Thurston County Superior Court Judge Christopher Lanese agreed in a ruling Friday, Oct. 11.
“This ruling means that environmental groups can now argue their case in front of the Shorelines Hearings Board that Skagit County failed to adequately address impacts to orcas and climate in the Environmental Impact Statement for the Anacortes Refinery expansion project,” Crag Law Center lawyer Oliver Stiefel said in the release. “We look forward to having our day in court to get these issues resolved.”
Skagit County Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Julie Nicoll said county staff cannot comment on active litigation. The Marathon Anacortes Refinery did not respond to requests for comment.
The refinery project — which was proposed when the refinery was owned by Tesoro before becoming Andeavor and then part of Marathon Petroleum — would involve upgrading and building new equipment, in part to produce up to 15,000 barrels per day of the chemical compound xylene during the oil refining process.
The refinery has said its goal is to ship the product to Asian markets, where it can be used to create a variety of synthetic materials including plastics and polyester.
A major concern for the environment groups is the risk of spills and added greenhouse gas emissions from the estimated 60 tanker ships that would carry the material across the Pacific Ocean each year.
They argue the EIS Skagit County produced did not thoroughly assess those impacts or require adequate mitigation measures to address them.
“We just want to make sure that the impacts that this project has are correctly identified and then that they are fully mitigated,” Ramel said. “That’s what the environmental review process is supposed to do anyways ... and we’re just trying to hold them to that standard.”
Tom Glade, president of the local nonprofit Evergreen Islands, said his main goal in participating in the appeal process is to help prevent the extinction of the Southern Resident orca whales that frequent area waters.
The whales are threatened by a lack of chinook salmon to eat, as well as sound from boat traffic and pollution in the water in which they live. The population has continued to decline in recent years despite federal Endangered Species Act protection, most recently reaching a low of 73 whales.
Other community members have also raised concerns about the whales, climate change, potential spills and worker exposure to xylene in written comments and at public hearings throughout the project review process.