Victory for Local Action as Coal Export Terminal Rejected in Oregon

The proposed Point of Morrow coal terminal would dramatically increase the number of coal-carrying barges, such as this, along the Columbia River and through the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area. (Photo: Susan Smith)

Victory for Local Action as Coal Export Terminal Rejected in Oregon

Rejection of  permit for Ambre Energy project marks the first time a Pacific Northwest state agency has formally rejected a coal export facility

Dealing a "severe blow" to the export of coal out of the Pacific Northwest, the Oregon Department of State Lands (DSL) on Monday rejected a critical permit for the construction of Ambre Energy's Morrow Pacific export terminal on the Columbia River.

"Ambre's dirty coal project would have sent hundreds of coal trains through the region, thousands of coal barges down the Columbia River, and further disrupted our climate with dangerous carbon pollution," writes water conservation group Columbia Riverkeeper. "DSL's decision is a defining win for clean water, salmon, and our communities."

Ambre, an Australian company, was seeking permission to build a permanent dock in Boardman, Oregon as part of their proposed coal export terminal, which environmentalists said would both hasten carbon pollution from increased coal consumption and threaten key waterways. The terminal would provide an outlet for over 8 million tons of coal which would be carried by rail each year from the Powder River Basin in southeast Montana and northeast Wyoming to barges in the Port of Morrow.

Over the past few months, more than 20,000 concerned citizens submitted public comments opposing the project, including over 3,000 medical professionals and public health advocates.

Announcing the denial of permit, DSL director Mary Abrams writes, "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."

Abrams adds that the proposed project "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."

The decision marks the first time a Pacific Northwest state agency has formally rejected a coal export facility.

"Northwest communities and leaders agree: coal exports are not in the best interest of the region," said Arlene Burns, city council president of Mosier, Oregon. "Throughout Oregon and the Northwest, thousands of business owners, elected officials, doctors, faith leaders and others have demanded that Governor Kitzhaber and the State of Oregon protect Oregon families and frontline communities from the dangers of coal exports. Today, those calls were answered."

"The writing on the wall is clear: Coal exports are going nowhere fast," added Devin Martin, an organizer with Sierra Club's Beyond Coal campaign. "This decision will only catalyze local movements against coal exports throughout North America. From British Columbia to Washington State to the Gulf of Mexico, communities are saying no to coal exports."

Though Ambre will be able to appeal the DSL decision, as Columbia Riverkeeper notes, the ruling has dealt a "severe blow" to one of the three remaining coal terminal proposals in the Pacific Northwest. Since 2010 there have been six proposals for coal export terminals in the region. The last two are slated for coastal Washington state, at Longview and Cherry Point.

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