Coal-export plans going off the rails in Pacific Northwest
You shall not pass.
Plans for two Oregon coal-export terminals have gone up in smoke in the last two months. That makes for a total of three scrapped terminals in the Pacific Northwest, after a proposed facility in Grays Harbor, Wash., bit the coal dust last year. Three others in the region remain in the works, but they face many of the same challenges — permitting and zoning issues, stalled negotiations, and delayed environmental reviews, not to mention fierce public opposition.
A spokesperson for Kinder Morgan, which announced Wednesday it was abandoning plans for a coal-export terminal at Oregon’s Port of St. Helens, “blamed site logistics for stopping the project, not the intense controversy over exporting coal from the green Northwest,” reports The Oregonian. He said Kinder Morgan would continue to explore options for a West Coast terminal.
The abrupt announcement came barely a month after the Port of Coos Bay ended negotiations with a California company looking to build a terminal there. There’s a chance the port could consider coal-export options with other companies, but the expensive rail improvements any project would require make a coal deal unlikely, said David Petrie, founder of Coos Waterkeeper.
Meanwhile, as options for shipping coal dwindle, the supply side has its own struggles. A deal to give Australian company Ambre Energy full control of a mine in Decker, Mont., has stalled amid reports of Ambre’s financial instability, and after the mine laid off 59 people — a third of its workforce — in December. The Associated Press reports:
Ambre has been seeking to ramp up production from the once-bustling mine, and ship coal to growing Asian markets through a pair of proposed ports along the Columbia River.
But the company faces stiff opposition in Oregon and Washington state, and critics have questioned whether Ambre has the financial wherewithal to see its ambitious plans to fruition.
And speaking of setbacks, the state of Oregon has delayed permits for a transfer station at the Port of Morrow — one of the three still-viable proposed terminals — where Powder River Basin coal would arrive by train, be loaded onto barges, and be shipped down the Columbia River. The state will give Ambre Energy until Sept. 1 to put together more information about the terminal’s potential impacts.
As for the other two proposed coal-export sites in the Northwest? Officials are still deciding what to cover in their environmental review of the Cherry Point terminal in Bellingham, Wash. (prompting one scientist to go rogue with his own crowdfunded investigation). The results won’t be out until 2014 or 2015. And the review process for the final proposed terminal, in Longview, Wash., lags behind by another year.
Meanwhile, China — the supposed market for all this coal — continues to boost renewable energy production and gradually wean itself off coal. If any of these terminals do finally start operating, will China even want our dirty coal anymore?
Claire Thompson is an editorial assistant at Grist.
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