green and sustainable business

Coal export terminal plan sunk by Oregon lands agency

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coal train_mckennaNow we’re down to two. Oregon’s Department of State Lands last week denied an Ambre Energy proposal to transport coal by rail to a Port of Morrow, OR terminal for eventual export to China and other Asian markets.

It’s the latest in a series of wins for opponents of six coal company proposals to move coal through the Pacific Northwest on the way to Asian markets. However the two biggest plans, both located in Washington State, are still alive: the Gateway Pacific Terminal at Cherry Point north of Bellingham, and the Millennium Bulk Terminal at Longview on the Columbia River.

The Gateway Pacific project would have the capacity to export up to 48 million tons of coal annually, translating to 17 trains a day through Puget Sound population centers. The Longview port would have a capacity of 44 million tons annually.

Australia’s Ambre Energy plan—on a much smaller scale than the Gateway and Millennium projects—would move coal by rail to the Coyote Island Terminal at the Port of Morrow near Boardman. From there it would be barged downstream on the Columbia River to Clatskanie, and from there shipped to China.

“As many people know, this permit application has taken hundreds of staff hours to review,” said Mary Abrams, DSL director, in a press release. “From reading more than 20,000 public comments to carefully analyzing technical documents and plans, this application has been scrutinized for months. We believe our decision is the right one, considering our regulatory parameters laid out in Oregon law, and the wealth of information we have received from the applicant and the public.”

DSL regulates filling and removing of material from “waters of the state” which include wetlands, rivers and streams. The Coyote Island Terminal removal-fill permit application proposed 572 cubic yards of permanent fill (in the form of pilings) in the Columbia River on submerged land owned by the Port of Morrow.

DSL determined that the Ambre’s permit application “is not consistent with the protection, conservation and best use of the state’s water resources, and that the applicant did not provide sufficient analysis of alternatives that would avoid construction of a new dock and impacts on tribal fisheries.”

“We used data provided by a wide array of parties, and weighed this information against what Oregon law says we must take into consideration in making removal-fill permit decisions,” Abrams said. “We fully believe that our conclusion to deny the Coyote Island Terminal permit is the right one.”

DSL noted Ambre can appeal the decision, which would involve a hearing before an administrative law judge through the contested case process. There was no immediate word from Ambre on whether it will appeal. (My story in Triple Pundit reported on the financial problems facing Ambre’s coal plans last year.)

But the nonprofit Alliance for Northwest Jobs and Exports, a mouthpiece for coal export interests in the PNW, said the DSL decision “hurts all trade-related industries and workers in our region,” according to a written statement from Alliance spokeswoman Kathryn Stenger. The state’s ports are “one of the few bright spots in Oregon’s economy,” she said.

Although Ambre Energy needs the rejected permit to build a dock, the Alliance statement suggested that Coyote Island and the other two coal terminal proposals still would be built.

So the battle is well-joined, and while things are looking upbeat for derailing coal exports out of the Pacific Northwest, the final outcome still remains in doubt.

Image: Banner Protest by Greenpeace USA via Flickr



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  1. […] activists have raised the grade crossing congestion and delay issue in their opposition to proposals to transport coal and oil on trains as much as one-mile long through local communities to port terminals in the […]

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