And then were two. Oregon’s Department of State Lands on Monday denied an Ambre Energy proposal to transport coal by rail to a Port of Morrow, Oregon terminal for eventual export to China and other Asian markets.
This is the latest in a series of wins for opponents of coal company plans to move coal through the Pacific Northwest on the way to Asian markets. But two major plans in Washington state, out of six original proposals, are still pending. The two proposals that remain on the table are the Gateway Pacific Terminal at Cherry Point north of Bellingham, and the Millennium Bulk Terminal at Longview on the Columbia River.
“We’ve gone from six down to two, with the two biggest and baddest remaining,” said Eric de Place, research director at The Sightline Institute and a critic of environmental and economic impacts of the proposed terminals. He was quoted in a Seattle Post-Intelligencer online article. 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 each day.
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,” Mary Abrams, Department of State Lands director, said 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.”
The department 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.
The department 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.”
The department noted that 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. (Triple Pundit reported on the financial problems facing Ambre’s coal plans last year.)
But the nonprofit Alliance for Northwest Jobs and Exports said the the department's 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 suggested in its statement that Coyote Island and the other two coal terminal proposals would still be built.
So, the battleground shifts to the remaining two proposals even as China’s demand for U.S. coal recedes. Things are looking up for derailing PNW coal exports.
Image credit: Banner Protest by Greenpeace USA via Flickr