Coal Export Developer Adds New CEO (SNL)
New CEO of coal export hopeful downplays impact to environment
The new CEO of Millennium Bulk Terminals-Longview LLC told SNL Energy that his former roles as environmental attorney and co-founder of the Washington Wildlife and Recreation Fund are not incongruous with his new task of developing a massive coal export terminal.
Bill Chapman, hired as Millennium Bulk Terminals nears critical phases of the permitting process, said he understands why some people might be surprised he left his job a senior environmental law partner in Seattle to head a coal export company in Longview, Wash. But Chapman noted he was already working on the project as senior outside counsel and is convinced the terminal will provide a benefit to the community.
“I believe strongly in the value of a clean environment, and parks and recreation improve quality of life,” Chapman said during a recent phone interview. “So does having a job and energy supply. It’s hard to enjoy parks when you’re unemployed. Some people, who are against the project, wish the laws were different. We’re trying to get people to follow the law and get a fair shake for the community. That’s why I got into environmental law.”
The terminal, a joint venture between Ambre Energy Ltd. and Arch Coal Inc., would export up to 44 million tonnes of coal at maximum capacity. Millennium is currently operating an existing import facility and cleaning up the site of a former Reynolds Metals plant.
The project is facing tremendous backlash from environmental groups and a rigorous review by state and local regulators who, unlike federal regulators, will study the impacts of burning the exported coal in Asia. Chapman bristled at the extensive review.
“What drives the amount of greenhouse gases produced is the amount of fossil fuels burned, in large part, whether it’s electricity generation or transportation,” he said. “There’s nothing about building a dock on the Columbia River that changes the number of power plants in the world. What determines how much coal is burned in Asia is the amount they invest in capital in those plants.”
Despite the lengthy review period and pushback from environmental groups, Chapman sounded confident that the terminal would eventually receive approval, though he noted “faster would be fairer” in regards to the environmental review. Chapman said he does not expect to receive the draft environmental impact statement from regulators until the end of 2014 or 2015.
“I just left a happy life at a law practice, driven south and jumped into this with both feet,” he said. “You can take that as an expression of confidence more than anything I can tell you over the telephone.”
The issue causing a large stir around Chapman’s appointment is his relationship with Gov. Jay Inslee. Chapman served under three Washington governors — including Inslee — on the state’s Recreation and Conservation Funding Board, approving grant funds for purchasing and enhancing parks, bicycle trails and critical wildlife habitat.
Some environmentalists speculated that Millennium hired Chapman based on his relationships with Inslee and other state leaders in an effort to gain leverage in the permitting process, citing his lack of experience in operations.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if they’re casting about for some way to play an inside game with Washington leaders,” said Eric de Place, policy director for think tank Sightline Institute. “Chapman may have billed himself as the right man for that job, but I suspect he won’t make a lot of headway.”
Chapman waved off those claims, saying Inslee has already stated his mission of ensuring a stringent review and that environmental groups work just as closely with state regulators as industry leaders.
In a June 13 email, Inslee spokeswoman Jaime Smith said Inslee “had no reservations” about working with Chapman.
“The governor has repeatedly noted his commitment to ensuring a thorough, rigorous and objective review of the project that includes assessment of the economic, environmental, safety and health impacts,” she said.
Two other proposed coal export facilities, Ambre’s Morrow Pacific project in Oregon and SSA Marine’s Gateway Pacific Terminal in Washington state, also are under review by regulators. Chapman said all three operations can co-exist, citing excess rail capacity and the need for coal in Asia.
But first, Millennium needs permits. And Chapman seems confident the terminal will get them, despite the questions facing the operation and, now, the questions concerning his path to Millennium.
“Yeah, it’s a nice deal being a senior partner,” he said. “Being a CEO is a good thing as well.”
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