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Environmental groups appeal Skagit County permit for refinery project

April 5, 2018

A coalition of environmental groups is appealing a permit issued by Skagit County for a project proposed at the Andeavor Anacortes Refinery, which was formerly Tesoro.

The appeal, which was filed Wednesday with the state Shorelines Hearings Board, marks the coalition’s second attempt to get the permit withdrawn and require the county to take a deeper look at potential environmental impacts of what is called the Clean Products Upgrade Project.

Skagit County completed an environment impact statement, or EIS, for the project in July. The State Environmental Policy Act requires an EIS for any project that may have significant environmental impacts.

Skagit County’s EIS concluded the project poses no significant environmental impacts that could not be mitigated or would not be addressed in permits required for construction.

The refinery needs permits from various agencies in order to complete the project. A shoreline development permit from Skagit County is one of them.

Shoreline development permits are required under the state Shoreline Management Act. Local jurisdictions are responsible for approving shoreline permits, and for some types the state Department of Ecology reviews local decisions.

Skagit County Hearing Examiner Wick Dufford in December approved the type of shoreline permit that does not require Ecology’s review.

The environmental groups appealed his decision two weeks later to the Skagit County Board of Commissioners. The commissioners upheld Dufford’s decision on March 9.

The commissioners said they were limited to considering impacts of shoreline development only within 200 feet of the refinery’s wharf off March Point, not how the larger project might contribute to ship traffic and greenhouse gas emissions.

Now, the environmental groups have appealed the county commissioners’ decision to the state Shorelines Hearings Board.

They argue the permit issued by Skagit County and the EIS used in the permit application do not adequately address risks the project poses to the Salish Sea and the climate.

The groups include Stand.Earth, RE Sources for Sustainable Communities, Friends of the San Juans, Friends of the Earth, the Sierra Club, the Puget Soundkeeper Alliance and Evergreen Islands.

Tom Glade of Evergreen Islands, a nonprofit based in Anacortes, said in a news release that the proposal poses significant risks to the environment because it would involve shipping xylene from the refinery to Asia.

Xylene is a chemical compound that can be extracted during the petroleum refining process. The Andeavor refinery proposes building and upgrading equipment to enable it to extract 15,000 barrels of xylene per day.

That is one of several components of the project, but is the one on which the appeal hinges.

“This project’s potential for doing irreparable environmental harm to our Salish Sea is why our environmental coalition came together in a steadfast effort to hold governments and industry to the highest standards,” Glade said. “We are acting today to protect not only the Padilla Bay National Estuarine Reserve and the Fidalgo Bay Aquatic Reserve ... but also Fidalgo, Guemes, and Samish Islands.”

The appeal asks the Shorelines Hearings Board to vacate the shoreline permit and require further environmental review of the project.

The board will schedule an appeal hearing and, according to its website, typically makes decisions within 180 days after an appeal is filed.