Skagit commission fails to address impacts of petrochemical expansion permit | Guest column

Submitted by Stand Earth, Friends of the San Juans and Crag Law Center

On Friday, March 9, the Board of Skagit County Commissioners dismissed the arguments made by environmental organizations and upheld a key permit for the Tesoro (recently renamed Andeavor) Anacortes Refinery to export new petrochemicals. Despite significant public concerns raised about the project, the Board opted not to consider whether the Environmental Impact Statement had adequately considered all of the project’s impacts. The board also decided not to require a more rigorous Shoreline Conditional Use permit for the project.

The groups that had appealed the decision are considering their options. “Obviously, we’re disappointed in the outcome,” said Chris Winter, with Crag Law Center. “The County Planning Department and Hearing Examiner made a number of mistakes based on an incomplete environmental review. Rather than correct those mistakes, the County Commissioners chose to circle the wagons. Fortunately, the public can get another shot at this through the Shoreline Hearings Board. We will be discussing this option and will announce our next steps shortly.”

Following the announcement, environmental organizations, RE Sources for Sustainable Communities, Friends of the San Juans, Friends of the Earth, Sierra Club and Evergreen Islands issued the following statements:

“This decision has broad implications for the health and safety of the Salish Sea and our climate. Tesoro cannot export 15,000 barrels per day of xylenes (which make plastics) without this permit, but the Commissioners declined to review the risks and impacts of that shipping. That choice conflicts with the reasonable requirement to review all environmental impacts associated with a project,” said Kyle Loring Staff Attorney with Friends of the San Juans.

“This project’s potential for doing irreparable environmental harm to our Salish Sea is why our coalition came together, to hold governments and industry to the highest standards. The regulators have failed to properly regulate new industrial activity and its impacts. This project will transform the existing wharf into a petrochemical export terminal, a new use that was never before considered or approved. The decision today continues those mistakes. A Conditional Use Permit must be required for new uses, especially when the project is adjacent to both the Padilla Bay National Estuarine Reserve and the Fidalgo Bay Aquatic Reserve, both with shorelines designated Shoreline of Statewide Significance,” said Tom Glade, President of Evergreen Islands.

“The Salish Sea is irreplaceable. The Environmental Impacts Study was deeply flawed, failed to account for the acoustic impacts on Southern Resident Killer Whales and failed to account for the real risk of an actual worst case spill. It’s important that the analysis be done properly and we are disappointed at the Board’s decision to ignore those errors,” said Marcie Keever, Oceans & Vessels Program Director, Friends of the Earth.

“The Board of Commissioners’ decision today fails to learn from the mistakes Kalama County made last year. The impacts of greenhouse gas emissions must be included in a proper evaluation of this project. By understating the greenhouse gas emissions of this project and failing to complete a life-cycle analysis, Skagit County made the same mistakes that Kalama County made. The Sierra Club helped to appeal the Kalama decision to the Shoreline Hearings Board. We won, and the emissions analysis has to be redone. Today’s decision is subject to the same appeals process, and we will continue to fight to ensure this dirty and dangerous project is assessed for its full impacts on our climate and communities.” — Stephanie Hillman, Northwest Campaign Representative, Sierra Club


This project would allow the Tesoro Anacortes Refinery to produce and ship up to 15,000 barrels per day of mixed xylenes for export to predominantly Asian markets. Xylenes are a petrochemical feedstock used in manufacturing plastics, films and related products. The project would result in the addition of approximately 60 vessel trips per month through the Salish Sea.

Summer 2015 – Tesoro proposed the project and began filing permit applications

March 2016 – Skagit County required a full EIS (environmental impact statement)

March- April 2017 – Skagit County released a Draft Environmental Impact Statement, more than 7500 comments were submitted. The overwhelming majority of them urged the County to address concerns over worker safety standards, petrochemical spills in the Salish Sea, risks to endangered orcas, increasing crude oil train traffic, and use of the new facility for crude oil export. Commenters also asked the county to separately review the xylene export and clean products upgrade components of the project, while properly accounting for greenhouse gas pollution.

July 2017 – Just two months after the end of the comment period, the County released a Final Environmental Impact Statement which was substantially unchanged from the DEIS.

November 2017 – Skagit County Hearing Examiner held a public comment period and public hearing on the Shoreline Substantial Development Permit. More than 100 people attend, with 60 of the 65 presenters speaking against the permit.

December 2017 – The Skagit County Hearing Examiner issued the permit. Six organizations, with representation by Crag Law Center, appealed the decision to the Skagit County Board of Commissioners. Concerns raised by the appellant group focus on the need for a Conditional Use Permit and the inadequacy of the EIS’s analysis of spill risk, marine impacts and greenhouse gas analysis.

February 27, 2018 – A hearing was held in front of the Board of Commissioners with arguments made by both sides. More than 100 members of the public attended the hearing most wearing red to signify opposition to the project.