Hundreds of people showed up to speak Tuesday at a hearing on the controversial Vancouver Energy oil terminal.
Tesoro Corporation and Savage Companies have proposed building what would be the largest oil-by-rail terminal in the country at the Port of Vancouver in Washington.
Supporters of the project welcome the jobs and economic development that would come along with the terminal. Opponents say shipping that much oil is too dangerous and they'd rather see the port develop cleaner energy.
Cathy Sampson-Kruse is a member of the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation in Eastern Oregon. She came to speak out against the project, which would increase oil-train traffic along the Columbia River where her tribe has fished for centuries.
"We're here to stand with our brothers and sisters to have our two cents heard and to hope that this committee and (Washington) Gov. (Jay) Inslee once he has their recommendation will have the moral compass to say no to Tesoro Savage," Sampson-Kruse said. "We have to pull the blinders off and stop this kind of degradation to our homes that we love so much."
The terminal would receive up to 360,000 barrels of crude oil a day by rail. The oil would be transferred to barges and shipped to West Coast oil refineries.
Jared Larrabee, general manager for Vancouver Energy, said the project could replace up to 30 percent of foreign oil imports with domestic oil. He said the plan is to send the oil to U.S. refineries despite the recent spending bill in Congress that lifted a ban on oil exports.
The Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council scheduled 10 hours of public testimony Tuesday. The hearing is focused on a draft environmental impact statement that outlines the risks of the project.
The board will ultimately make a recommendation to Washington Governor Jay Inslee, who has the final word on the project.
Opponents say the draft environmental review, released in November, highlights many reasons for denying the project.
Jared Smith is the president of the Longshore and Warehouse Union Local 4, which represents workers who load and unload barges and ships at the Port of Vancouver. His union opposes the terminal despite its potential to generate jobs for the union.
"Our members do not want to work around oil trains and oil terminals," he said. "It has been shown that it's not safe to move oil by rail. The draft environmental impact statement shows the first responders are not adequately equipped to handle a fire or an explosion. The port would be strengthened financially, but it's not worth it. One oil spill on the river would shut down the port."
But Larrabee said his company plans to spend $45 million of its total $210 million investment in the terminal on safety and environmental protections. He said the Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council's draft environmental review actually concludes the project "has no significant unavoidable impacts."
"That means this project can be built and operated in a safe and environmentally responsible manner and can bring the economic benefits its intended to bring to the area," he said.
The project has support from the Washington State Building Trades Council, which represents 70,000 workers who could benefit from the 350 construction jobs required to build the terminal.
Lee Newgent, executive secretary of the council, says energy development is critical to the future of the Northwest economy.
"Our members in this area have been struggling financially for quite awhile," he said. "Municipalities are struggling. They need new industry to replace the industries we've lost."
Tuesday's hearing was scheduled to go from 1 to 11 pm. Within a few hours, 325 people had signed up to speak, exceeding the number that wold be able to speak in that 10-hour time frame. The hearing will continue Jan. 12. Another hearing is scheduled in Spokane on Jan. 14. The council will continue to accept comment submissions until Jan. 22.