Last week, I traveled to Skagit County, Washington for a hearing on a proposed $400 million expansion of the Tesoro oil refinery, which is located on the banks of the Salish Sea in Anacortes.  With more electric vehicles on the road and better fuel efficiency standards, Tesoro wants to retool its outdated refinery to produce a new petrochemical from crude oil – mixed xylenes.  The xylenes would be shipped through the Salish Sea to Asia, where they would be turned into plastics.

Crag Law Center represents a broad coalition of groups concerned about the project, including Stand.earth, RE Sources for Sustainable Communities, Evergreen Islands, Friends of the San Juans, Friends of the Earth, and the Sierra Club.  Their concerns include the threat of a major oil and chemical spill in the Salish Sea, impacts on the neighboring island communities of the San Juans, impacts to orca whales, and, of course, greenhouse gas emissions and climate change.

While Tesoro has promoted this as a minor project with no adverse environmental impacts, the truth is that Tesoro wants to produce 230 million gallons per year of this toxic chemical.  That is equal to the total current U.S. export market for mixed xylenes.  At a time when we are investing hundreds of millions of dollars to transition to a clean energy and low carbon economy, why would we dramatically ramp up exports of mixed xylenes, which are derived from crude oil?  Why don’t Asian countries want to produce this toxic chemical themselves?  The Pacific Northwest is holding the thin green line on fossil fuel exports, and this project does not fit in with the community’s vision for a more sustainable future.

The hearing examiner in Skagit County initially approved a development permit under the Shoreline Management Act for the project.  We have appealed that permit to the Skagit County Board of Commissioners because the environmental review ignored important impacts from spills and greenhouse gas emissions, and because Skagit County took short cuts with the permitting process.

Concerned local residents in Skagit County, WA filled the room during a hearing about the proposed expansion of the Tesoro oil refinery.

During the hearing, the room was filled with the red shirts of local citizens concerned about the project.  Many people testified at the end of the hearing about the impacts to local ferry routes, and their sense of personal responsibility to tackle climate change on behalf of our kids and grandchildren.  I tried my best to channel their passion into legal arguments for the Board of County Commissioners to ensure that the permitting process is lawful and gives the citizens a fair opportunity to weigh in with their concerns.

We expect a decision on March 9th, and whichever way the Board goes, the work will be far from over.  With such a passionate group of people working in their local community for our common future, we are committed to the work ahead.

Skagit County has a video of the hearing on its website.

King 5 news ran a piece on the hearing here.

Stand.earth went live on Facebook to talk about the hearing.  You can view that here.

Crag attorney Chris Winter with Skagit County residents opposing the proposed Tesoro refinery expansion.