Oregon Shuts the Door on Ambre Energy’s Dirty Morrow Pacific Coal Export Proposal

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On August 18, 2014 the Department of State Lands Director Mary Abrams finally said “no” to coal exports. The Oregon Department of State Lands (DSL) denied a key permit necessary for Ambre Energy’s Morrow Pacific coal export proposal.  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.  DSL’s decision is a defining win for clean water, salmon, and our communities.
The decision deals a severe blow to Ambre Energy’s struggling proposal. The decision also marks the first time a Pacific Northwest state agency formally rejected a coal export facility. The denial comes on the heels of Ambre Energy’s repeated failures to provide information to DSL about the project’s scope and impacts.  Ambre Energy would use the terminal to ship over 8 million tons of coal annually along the Columbia River and through the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area.
“Northwest families will accept nothing less than the kind of leadership that protects our health, safety, economy, and climate,” Mike Seely, of Seely Family Farms, said. “Coal exports would devastate my business and jeopardize many other family operations and industries that depend on a healthy, clean Columbia River. Today’s decision shows that Oregon families and leaders agree: The threats of coal exports are far too risky for our economies and natural resources.”
In the months leading up to the permit denial, more than 20,000 citizens have contacted Governor Kitzhaber requesting a denial of the permit. In May 2014, 86 elected officials from Oregon, Montana, Idaho, and Washington urged Governor Kitzhaber and DSL to protect frontline communities throughout the Northwest by rejecting a permit for Ambre Energy’s proposed Morrow Pacific coal export project. Close to 600 Northwest businesses and business leaders have also either expressed concern or outright opposition to coal export. More than 3,000 medical professionals and public health advocates have requested a denial of the Morrow Pacific project permit.
Our commitment to protecting the Columbia River from dirty coal export is unflagging. Riverkeeper joined with Friends of the Columbia Gorge and Sierra Club to defend the State of Oregon’s historic decision to say “no” to dirty coal on the Columbia. Shortly after the State of Oregon Department of State Lands made the right decision when it denied a critical permit for Ambre Energy to develop an 8.8 million ton per year coal export project along the Columbia, Ambre, the Port of Morrow, and the State of Wyoming, swiftly filed appeals challenging the State’s well-reasoned decision. In the meantime, Ambre’s project is on hold indefinitely and the Army Corps of Engineers put their permitting review on the shelf after the announcement that DSL denied a crucial permit for the coal export proposal. Without a coal dock-building permit, Ambre cannot start moving an ounce of coal along the Columbia and through the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area.

Holding Millennium at Bay in Longview

Longview Coal Export Site. Photo by Brett VandenHeuvel

In late 2010, Cowlitz County approved Millennium’s shoreline permit and, shortly thereafter, Columbia Riverkeeper, the Washington Environmental Council, Sierra Club, and Climate Solutions appealed the permit. In the course of litigation discovery, we caught Millennium in a serious lie: Millennium had misrepresented to state and federal officials its anticipated annual export volume by 20-75 million tons per year. As reported in the Longview Daily News, the New York Times and The Wall Street Journal, among other newspapers, Millennium’s 2010 environmental review was marred by misrepresentations.
Caught in a lie, Millennium quickly decided to pull its 2010 permit application, stating that it would submit a new application in the future which accurately reflected the amount of coal it intends to handle.
Working with local activists and the Power Past Coal coalition, Columbia Riverkeeper supported the organizing efforts that led to over 1,000 citizens attending the September 2013 Millennium Bulk Terminals scoping hearing in Longview. The scoping hearing was the public’s opportunity to inform agencies on what should be included in the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). The hearing room was packed with citizens wearing our campaign’s signature red shirts. Scoping hearings were also held in Tacoma, Spokane and Vancouver, and just like in Longview, coal export opponents far outnumbered proponents.
Over 215,000 scoping comments were submitted to the agencies responsible for producing the EIS, the majority voicing concern and opposition to Millennium’s coal export plans. The public’s voice was heard. Cowlitz County and the Washington Department of Ecology are producing an EIS that includes impacts from the mining of the coal in the Powder River Basin, the impact of coal dust on rail communities and the greenhouse gas emissions from burning coal in power plants abroad. Unfortunately, The Army Corps of Engineers broke away from Ecology and Cowlitz County and will produce their own EIS with an extremely narrow scope of review.  The draft Environmental Impact Statements from Cowlitz County and Ecology, and the Army Corps of Engineers are anticipated to be released in late 2015. Public hearings will be held on these documents.

Kinder Morgan and Metro-Ports coal exporters pack up and leave

In the spring of 2013 both Kinder Morgan and Metro-Ports coal exporters shelved their plans for major coal export facilities on the Columbia River at Port Westward and at the Port of Coos Bay, respectively. These would-be coal export corporations faced huge opposition both in the local areas where the terminals would proposed and along the coal train routes.
In March 2013 the Port of Coos Bay stood alone in its efforts to develop a terminal for coal exports, as the last project proponent, California-based Metro Ports allowed its exclusive negotiating contract with the Port to expire.  After overseas power companies lost interest in the project Metro Ports was forced to shelve its plans to bring dirty coal through the Columbia Gorge Scenic Area, Portland, the Willamette Valley and through the coast range to the Port of Coos Bay.  City Councils in Portland, Milwaukie, Salem and Eugene all passed resolutions of concern or opposition to coal trains polluting their air and blocking critical at-grade rail crossings.
In May 2013 Kinder Morgan withdrew plans to site a 30 million ton per year coal export terminal at Port Westward. Portland General Electric, which also leases property at Port Westward, effectively vetoed the Kinder Morgan’s project, citing concerns that coal dust would harm its natural gas plants. Communities along the rail line and especially in Columbia County worked tirelessly to oppose the Kinder Morgan coal export proposal, which would have brought up to 16 coal trains a day through the Columbia Gorge Scenic Area, North Portland and divided Columbia County towns like Scappoose, St. Helens and Rainier.


Building a Coalition to Protect the Columbia

Riverkeeper is working with the region’s leading conservation, climate policy, and health organizations on a region-wide campaign to protect the Columbia and Northwest communities from coal export. To learn more about the Power Past Coal Coalition, visit http://powerpastcoal.org/.