Dirty Coal Export

Dirty Coal Export Targets the Columbia

Coal companies are targeting the Columbia River as the gateway for coal export. Massive terminals would send staggering quantities of U.S. coal to Asia. The Millennium terminal, proposed by Australia-based Ambre Energy and coal giant Arch, plans to export up to 60 million tons of strip-mined coal per year from the Powder River Basin through a port in Longview, Washington. A second proposal by Peabody Coal near Bellingham, Washington, proposes to export up to 50 million tons of coal per year. Ambre Energy’s Oregon proposal to barge coal down the Columbia River from the Port of Morrow to Port Westward was recently dealt a major blow – the Department of State Lands denied a crucial permit that Ambre applied for to build a dock at the Port of Morrow. DSL found that the removal/fill permit application, which could allow Ambre to build a coal dock, would interfere with the existing fishery located at the proposed dock site and that “the fishery is more significant than the benefit that may be derived from proposed fill.”  Read DSL’s decision here. On September 8, 2014 Ambre Energy, joined by the Port of Morrow and State of Wyoming, appealed the permit denial.

Coal Export is Dirty

The proposed coal terminal on the Columbia and trains carrying coal would pollute our air, water, and communities. Watch this disturbing video of a coal train in Pennsylvania. See photos we collected of Coal Terminals and Barges in the area.

Coal Is Dirty. Photo from the Sierra Club.

Coal dust can contain toxic pollution, including arsenic and polyaromatic hydrocarbons. For farmers, landowners, and communities along the rail lines, coal dust is more than a nuisance—it’s a public health issue. While the video may show an unusually high level of dust, even Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) acknowledges that coal trains spill a lot of dust.  BNSF’s studies show that 500 pounds of coal can be lost in the form of dust from each rail car. Each 100-car train, therefore, may spill 50,000 pounds of coal dust into our rivers and towns. BNSF’s website stated that “the amount of dust that escapes from PRB [Powder River Basin] trains is surprisingly large.” BNSF has removed this page from its website, but our allies at the Sightline Institute captured the image in the amusing post titled “At Least The Website Is Clean.”

Coal dust blowing from the coal terminal will foul the air and water, as well as homes, boats, and businesses up to several miles away. For example, the Westshore coal terminal in British Columbia is located three miles from residences, yet homes are still covered with coal dust.

Coal Export is Bad for the Economy

The Port of Vancouver’s Operation Manager, Mike Schiller wrote: “Coal is the most risky bulk mineral market. Consuming markets have no loyalty and will quickly shift to the cheapest market. Prices and markets can change before a facility is completed. . . . Because this is a fickle market, there is real danger in losing investment – both in construction capital and lost opportunity in a poorly performing asset (i.e. a single commodity terminal handling lower than expected volumes).” Coal export requires a small workforce and wastes hundreds of acres of waterfront property to store raw coal. Millennium displaced 50 employees when it bought the waterfront property and they plan to produce just 20 additional jobs. It’s not worth the risk. The proposed 460-acre coal export site has tremendous potential for thousands of jobs in light industrial and smart-tech growth, instead of being mired in a single commodity dirty export trade.

Coal Export Would Reverse Washington’s Clean Energy Gains

While Washington invests in clean technology jobs for wind, wave, and solar energy, the coal export terminals would reverse major commitments to reduce the state’s contribution to global warming pollution. The coal export proposals come on the heels of Washington’s popular 2007 legislation restricting coal plant development, Governor Gregoire’s Executive Order on Climate Change, and both Washington’s and Oregon’s efforts to end their dependence on coal-fired power.

Take Action!

Across the Northwest, people are banding together to take a stand against coal export. Join the movement to protect Columbia River communities from coal export.

Contact Peter Goldmark, Commissioner of Public Lands in Washington State

The Washington Department of Natural Resources (DNR) will make critical decisions on whether state-owned aquatic lands can be used to support coal export terminals.  Contact the head of DNR–Peter Goldmark–and tell him to deny any permit applications for dirty coal export on the Columbia River.  Email or call Commissioner Goldmark at cpl@dnr.wa.gov or 360-902-1004.

Contact Washington’s Governor Inslee

Tell Governor Inslee that you support clean air and water, not dirty coal export.  Call the Governor’s office at 360-902-4111.

Contact Oregon’s Governor Brown

Coal export does not belong in a clean, healthy 21st century Oregon. Please call Governor Kate Brown and urge her to take a strong position against coal export, LNG and crude oil terminals and dangerous crude-by-rail trains.   Contact the Governor at 503-378-4582



Riverkeeper is a proud member of Power Past Coal.