|August 20, 2014|
Bad news for Big Coal: Oregon rejects proposed export terminal
|Oregon has rejected Ambre Energy's plan for barging coal down the Columbia River to be exported to China, the fourth Northwest shipment terminal project to bite the dust.|
The denial of a dock permit by the Oregon Department of State Lands leaves just two proposals on the table, the Gateway Pacific Terminal at Cherry Point north of Bellingham, and the Millennium 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 trenchant critic of environmental and economic impacts of the proposed terminals.
The proposal from the Australia-based Ambre Energy was to move coal by rail to the port of Morrow in Eastern Oregon, from which it would be barged downstream on the Columbia River to Clatskanie, and from there shipped to China.
A spokeswoman for Ambre said the developer disagrees with the decision and is looking at its options.
The Oregon rejection comes amidst ominous news for coal exporters from across the Pacific. China is seeking to move away from the fuel that chokes its cities in pollution and shortens the lives of its citizens.
"All the way from the end user in China, through the proposed export terminals in Northwest, to the mines in Montana --- at every end of the journey, this is coming to be seen as a 19th Century idea in a 21st Century world," state Rep. Reuven Carlyle, D-Seattle, said.
"You can't privatize benefits and socialize the costs," added Carlyle, among the first to call for a thorough analysis of economic and environmental costs of sending mile to mile-and-a-half long coal trains through the region's cities.
The effort to ship coal out of Northwest ports was born of anxiety. The United States is moving away from burning coal: Even in the heartland of coal production, the Tennessee Valley Authority is shutting down coal plants.
Washington is phasing out the Centralia power plant: The state's biggest electrical utility, Puget Sound Energy, is being pressured to pull the plug on its Colstrip 1 & 2 plants in Montana, built in the mid-1970′s and needing major retrofits to live with new emissions standards.
With its market declining, and utilities switching to less polluting natural gas, Big Coal and railroads looked for a new market for coal comping from Montana and Wyoming. Their answer: China.
Arguing that their project would generate family wage jobs, the Gateway Pacific project had great initial success in lining up support. Organized labor came on board, along with Whatcom County business groups and local politicians.
Polls showed strong initial support for export terminals. The coal companies and railroads recruited the best public relations talent that money can buy, including companies touting "green" credentials. An "astroturf" grassroots groups blanketed the region with TV spots.
What developers did not foresee was emergence of a big popular movement against the proposed coal ports, with worries ranging from transportation tie ups to greenhouse gas emissions in China.
Nearly 2,500 people showed up in Seattle for a "scoping" hearing on Cherry Point, 90-plus percent opposed to the project. Indian tribes have given a thumbs down. Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber has taken an emphatic stand against coal ports, and carried Washington Gov. Jay Inslee onto a powerful letter to the Obama administration.
"It is time to once and for all say no to coal exports from the Pacific Northwest: It is time to say Yes to national and state energy policies that will transform our economies and our communities into a future that can sustain the next generation," he said in an April letter.
An important precedent: In its Ambre Energy decision, Oregon recognized and gave weight to the treaty rights of Columbia River tribes.
Coal is the second regional environmental battle in a decade to see Oregon in the lead.
The previous Governor of Oregon, Ted Kulongoski, blocked a campaign by the Bonneville Power Administration to end spilling water from Columbia River dams to help young salmon migrate downstream. The "fish flush" is a vital component to recovery of salmon on the region's greatest river.
The remaining two proposed coal export terminals are in Washington.
"The Cherry Point terminal would be six times as big as what Ambre Energy proposed: The Longview terminal would be five-and-a-half times as big: What does this say about impact?" asked Collin Jergens of Fuse Washington, the liberal consumer group.
The Gateway Pacific project would be able 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.