Scoping comment re: permafrost

This comment was presented verbally at the 12/13 scoping hearing (in abbreviated form; two minutes is not long!). Here’s the full comment, which will also be submitted online.


The EIS should evaluate the possible impact on climate, and specifically on the possible melting of the permafrost. This should be in the EIS for the following reasons.

  • The coal to be shipped out from the terminal will be burned. This will release a large quantity of CO2, which could impact climate worldwide and cause warming.
  • At the Doha talks in November 2012, the U.N. Environment Programme reported that the permafrost in Siberia is beginning to thaw. If it thaws, it would release additional CO2 — up to 135 billion tons by 2100. That CO2 would then cause more warming and make the permafrost melt even faster. The statement from Kevin Schaefer, at the U.S. National Snow and Ice Data Center, is that “Thawing permafrost could trigger what is called the permafrost-carbon feedback. Once the feedback starts, it’s irreversible. If you take that organic matter out it’s impossible to put it back, and it will persist for centuries.”
  • The reason this matters is that additional atmospheric CO2 could cause higher sea levels and more storms like superstorm Sandy. This is in line with a recent report from NOAA: on December 6 it released a new report, forecasting rising sea levels and an increase the frequency, magnitude, and duration of flooding associated storms.

As a result, we could be close to a dangerous tipping point in world climate. We need to know the level of risk that the coal to be shipped might take us over that tipping point. Specifically, the EIS for the Cherry Point terminal should evaluate the following.

  1. How much of a margin of safety do we have before reaching a tipping point.
  2. How much might that margin of safety might be reduced by the burning of coal shipped through Cherry Point.
  3. What will be the cost of sea walls or other mitigation measures that Washington state would need, in preparation for rising sea levels and superstorms.
  4. How much of those measures would be paid for by the Gateway Pacific Terminal’s builders and owners.
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