Oregon Moves Closer To Dirty Coal Exports

Our guest blogger is Josh Nelson, Campaign Manager for CREDO Action.

After a poorly publicized hearing last week, the Port of St. Helens on the Oregon coast approved a secretive deal to lease space to two dirty coal companies, paving the way for the port to become the largest coal terminal on the U.S. West Coast.

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In an interview with The Oregonian last summer, Gov. John Kitzhaber (D-OR) said the approval of coal export facilities “should not happen in the dead of night” and that “we must have an open, vigorous public debate before any projects move forward.”

But that’s not what happened last week.

At Wednesday’s hearing, a large majority of those who testified were strongly opposed to the lease options moving forward. But that apparently didn’t matter to the Port of St. Helens Commissioners, who voted 4–1 and 5–0 to approve the two deals.

Vance Fraser, a Clatskanie resident who testified last week, wasn’t pleased with the outcome. “It’s clear that the commissioners were just going through the motions and had their minds made up,” he said. “The worst of it is that people who are impacted didn’t even know that a decision was going to be made.”

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If the big coal companies get their way, up to 38 million tons of coal per year could soon be shipped through Oregon on uncovered trains and exported through the Port of St. Helens, leaving a cloud of dangerous coal dust and diesel fumes throughout the state. It would also rapidly escalate climate pollution by supplying coal to overseas markets.

As an elected official concerned about public health — and as a doctor who understands the health risks massive coal export projects pose — Governor Kitzhaber needs to take a strong stand by doing everything in his power to stop these projects before they start.