Proposed Coal Export Terminal In Oregon Suffers Major Setback

CREDIT: AP Photo/Matthew Brown

Oregon has dealt what could be a fatal blow to a proposal to build a coal export facility on the Columbia River, dismissing the plan by Australia-based Ambre Energy as “not consistent with the protection, conservation and best use of the state’s water resources.”

The long-awaited decision was issued by Oregon’s Department of State Lands and blocks Ambre from building a dock in Boardman, OR to transfer coal mined from public lands in the Powder River Basin in Wyoming and Montana from coal trains to river barges. The agency denied Ambre’s request for what is known as a removal-fill permit for its proposed terminal at the Port of Morrow. The proposed export dock would have handled almost 9 million tons of coal a year. Barges would have carried the coal for loading onto ships at an existing facility further downstream in Clatskanie, OR.

Ambre can appeal the decision but if it chooses to abandon the project there would be just two coal export terminal proposals still in the works in the Pacific Northwest, both in Washington state and both of which have attracted strong opposition. Though U.S. coal producers have been eyeing Asian markets as a way to buffer them from the steady decline in U.S. coal consumption resulting from competition from natural gas and renewables and environmental restraints, three other export projects in the northwest have fallen through.

Opponents of building coal export facilities on the West Coast who have formed a broad coalition stretching from southeastern Montana through numerous small towns in the northern Plains to the Pacific hailed the decision by the Oregon agency.

“Northwest communities and leaders agree: coal exports are not in the best interest of the region,” said Arlene Burns, city council president in Mosier, Oregon, in a statement.

The decision came as the Center for American Progress completed a new analysis of coal exports, detailing how selling public coal from the Powder River Basin cheats U.S. taxpayers, increases U.S. greenhouse gas emissions and undermines the Obama administration’s climate goals. “Taken together, the PRB’s below-market prices, sky-high pollution costs, and rising exports represent a powerful threat to U.S. climate goals,” the forthcoming report concludes.

The CAP analysis finds that PRB coal prices could rise four-fold and still be competitive on the international market, but that exporting 130 million tons a year from the PRB would result in carbon pollution equal to putting 35 million new passenger cars on the road. Combustion of coal from the Powder River Basin accounts for about 13 percent of total U.S. carbon pollution.

There are currently no sizeable coal export facilities on the U.S. West Coast, though relatively modest quantities of coal from Utah and Colorado are shipped from Long Beach, CA., and some PRB coal is exported through ports in British Columbia..