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New West Daily Roundup for May 3, 2016

Today in New West news: EA released for Washington port proposed for Western coal, Ultra Petroleum files for bankruptcy, sage grouse provisions tucked into National Defense Authorization Act, and Boulder Economic Summit 2016 scheduled for May 17.

According to the Columbian, the Washington State Department of Ecology has released an environmental assessment regarding the Millennium Bulk Terminals coal-export proposal, which would establish a port in Longview to ship 44 million tons of Montana, Wyoming, Utah and Colorado coal. Specifically, the proposal would involve shipping eight coal-carrying trains (comprising 125 cars each) a day through Vancouver and the Columbia River Gorge. The assessment says the line, if approved, could be up and running by 2020 with a soft start of two trains a day.

Overall, the Department of Ecology was tepid toward Millennium’s proposal, citing risks to environmental and human health. From the Columbian:

Overall, the review released Friday takes a cautious approach to the contentious project, laying out potential risks and finding mitigation that “would not completely eliminate significant adverse environmental impacts resulting from construction and operation of the (terminal).”

Environmental groups and others have been vocal in their opposition to the project, and on Friday they said the Department of Ecology’s review is mostly on their side.

“The review’s findings confirm what the public has said for over six years: This project has significant, unavoidable impacts — from toxic coal dust to greenhouse gas emissions to traffic delays,” Jan Hasselman, attorney for the Power Past Coal Coalition, said in a statement. “The bad news is the review falls short, relying on unproven mitigation. Now is the public’s chance to weigh in to say no to coal export in Washington.”

Supporters have also been outspoken, with some expressing irritation at the pace and demands of the state review.

“Today’s release of the draft (review) for Millennium Bulk Terminals, a simple dock and rail yard expansion project, is the latest step in an excessive evaluation that has already dragged on more than twice as long as it took to actually build Seattle’s CenturyLink Field,” said Alliance for Northwest Jobs & Exports spokeswoman Kathryn Stenger in a statement. “The unprecedented demand to require Millennium to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions that occur on the other side of the globe will create a harrowing process that should terrify any Washington manufacturer or shipper looking to expand its facility.”

The Columbian adds that the feasibility of the project is in question given that its largest backer is Arch Coal, which filed for bankruptcy this past January. Ross Macfarlane, a senior advisor for Climate Solutions, said the project’s economic desirability has greatly diminished since it was first proposed in 2010. It’s worth noting that a similar port for Utah mineral products has been proposed for offshore California.

Keeping with energy news, according to Bloomberg, Houston, Texas-based Ultra Petroluem (whose main assets are gas fields in Wyoming, along with some crude oil holdings in Utah) has filed for bankruptcy, citing $3.9 billion in debt. We previously reported that Ultra Petroleum had dodged defaulting on its debt. All to no avail, it seems. From Bloomberg news:

The low commodity prices, and especially the low natural gas prices that prevailed throughout 2015 and have continued through the first four months of 2016 have had a devastating impact,” Chief Financial Officer Garland Shaw said in a filing explaining events that led to the bankruptcy.

Among its first requests to the court will be for permission to continue a surety bonding program that had $12.6 million outstanding as of the bankruptcy date, and that secures its obligations on environmental, road damage, and plugging of wells, according to court records.

Between March and early April, Ultra missed a series of principal and interest payments owed to lenders and bondholders. And on April 14, the company was sued by pipeline operator Sempra Rockies Marketing LLC for failing to pay transport fees.

In sage grouse news, U.S. Representative Rob Bishop (R-UT), according to Deseret News, has attached a rider to the National Defense Authorization Act which could potentially block implementation of federal sage grouse management plans across the West. Bishop’s rationale: sage grouse regulations impede the military and weaken our national defense. From Deseret News:

“As a fan of baseball, I can say it feels good to be batting a thousand,” Bishop said. “My amendments will create more jobs in northern Utah. I’m happy we are one step closer to granting greater flexibility and capability to the servicemen and women who sharpen their skills at the Utah Test and Training Range.

“It is also great to see progress toward granting the military the ability to manage training lands and not be beholden to the (Bureau of Land Management) to drain their time and resources with meaningless reviews and bureaucratic hurdles,” he said.

The massive bill also prevents any change in the bird’s conservation status for 10 years.

Conservation groups and wildlife organizations said the sage grouse provision in the bill threatens protections for the bird.

“Just like last year, some lawmakers are using concerns about national security as a pretext to prevent the implementation of federal plans to conserve sage grouse and the sagebrush steppe. And just like last year, the arguments for adding this language to the defense bill are groundless. Meanwhile, the clock is ticking on the bird’s fate,” said Clare Bastable, the National Wildlife Federation’s public lands program director.

Bastable added late Thursday the organization is hoping the Senate will delete the provision.

Finally, for anyone interested in the state of Boulder’s economy, you’re invited to attend the Boulder Economic Summit 2016. According to the Daily Camera, the event will take place May 17 from 7:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. at the Glenn Miller Ballroom in the University Memorial Center at the University of Colorado Boulder:

The confab is sponsored by the Boulder Chamber of Commerce and presented by its economic development arm, the Boulder Economic Council.

In seven panel discussions, the forum will address the metrics of what this near-peak economy looks like, what pending expansions by such companies as Twitter and AstraZenca will look like and what impact the city’s plans to restructure development fees will likely have. It will also examine the state of business finance, hiring and housing, among others.

“No one really knows if we’ve reached the peak,” said Boulder Economic Council President Clif Harald. “But we’re certainly seeing metrics that are suggesting we’re reaching historic low levels of unemployment and commercial vacancy rates.”

You can register for the event here.

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