Corps suspends Columbia coal port studies: Another blow to Big Coal

By Joel Connelly, September 15, 2014, Seattle PI

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has suspended environmental studies of Ambre Energy’s proposed coal barge terminal on the Columbia River near Boardman, Oregon.

 

The Corps’ action comes a month after Oregon’s Department of State Lands denied authorization for the controversial project, which if developed would barge up to 8 million tons of coal each year through the Columbia Gorge National Scenic Area.

 

The coal would be loaded downstream onto ocean-going vessels, presumably for shipment to China.

 

Desperate for new markets overseas, the coal industry has suffered a series of setbacks as it has sought to develop huge export terminals in Northwest ports. The terminals would receive coal from trains, each a mile to mile-and-a-half long, and ship it to China.

 

China accounts for an estimated 45 percent of the world’s coal consumption each year, and has surpassed the United States as the world’s greatest source of greenhouse gas emissions.

 

The one big victory for Big Coal has come north of the border.

 

Port Metro Vancouver, a corporation created by the Canadian government, last month approved the Fraser Surrey Dock proposal.  The plan is to ship U.S. coal by barge from a terminal near the mouth of the Fraser River to Texada Island in the Strait of Georgia.  It would then be loaded onto ocean-going ships.

 

The Corps’ suspension was hailed by opponents, who fear that coal trains would cause pollution and congestion here, and that U.S. coal would be used to extend the lives of old, polluting power plants in China.

 

“Ambre’s coal export terminal proposal is dead in the water without state or federal permits: Ambre cannot start exporting U.S. coal on uncovered coal trains that will pollute land and water along the Columbia River,” said Brett VandenHeuvel of Power Past Coal, a coalition of green groups.

 

The state of Oregon’s decision to reject Ambre’s terminal — a decision strongly backed by Gov. John Kitzhaber — has been appealed by the Port of Morrow and the State of Wyoming. The export-bound coal would come from Wyoming and Montana mines.

 

The Oregon Department of Lands acted out of “apparent dislike for the commodity” to be exported, argues Wyoming’s appeal, which added. “One state cannot unilaterally stop interstate and foreign commerce to the detriment of its sister states.”

 

If the appeal succeeds, Ambre Energy could ask the Army Corps of Engineers to resume its studies, which included preparation of an environmental impact assessment.

 

Just two coal port proposals remain on the table out of an original six — but they are the biggest.

 

One is the proposed Gateway Pacific project at Cherry Point north of Bellingham, which could ship more than 50 million tons of coal to China each year.  It suffered a major setback, however, with election of four conservationist-backed candidates to the Whatcom County Council. The council has major permitting authority over the project.

 

As well, Gateway Pacific has faced determined opposition from the Lummi Indians, who claim it interferes with economic and cultural tribal rights. The Army Corps of Engineers has to take Indian treaty rights into account in permitting decisions.

 

The other major proposal on the table is Millennium Bulk Terminals’ proposed export port at Longview on the Columbia River. The Australian-based Ambre Energy also has a big share in the Millennium proposal.

 

The Alliance for Northwest Jobs & Exports, a coal industry-railroad group lobbying for export terminals, tweeted that the Ambre setback has no impact on either Gateway Pacific or Millennium, saying:

 

“Army Corps’ decision has NO bearing on two existing WA port projects.  All are designed to meet and surpass region’s environmental standards.”.

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