Coal Export Madness Spreading to Oregon

By scott parkin
Coal smokestacks

Coal companies are bound and determined to get that dirty black rock out of the Powder River Basin and send it over to Asian markets to line their pockets.

While the EPA is pressing for stricter regulations on coal plants and the anti-coal movement stops new coal-fired power plants from being built and existing coal plants from having their lives extended, coal companies like Arch Coal, Ambre Energy and Peabody Energy are looking at Japan, China and India for new markets. These companies have already begun to seek permitting in the Washington ports of Bellingham and Longview and are facing stiff opposition.

In the southern part of the state along the Columbia River at the port of Longview, public pressure caused Millennium Bulk Logistics (a joint venture of Ambre Energy and Arch Coal) to blink and withdraw their permit application. While Ambre has stated they will re-submit once an environmental impact study is complete, the opposition to the port in Longview has become quite loud and effective at fighting the coal port initiative.

North of Seattle in Bellingham, WA, port logistical company SSA Marine and Peabody Energy have faced their own opposition. In the past few months, people in Bellingham have organized a number of large events around the coal export terminal at Cherry Point, a thousand-person rally which featured climate activist Bill McKibben and caused the Bellingham mayor Dan Pike to publicly oppose the terminal (the most notable politician to speak out against coal exports thus far.)

Now the coal companies are looking to mitigate the effective campaign work of the Longview and Bellingham communities, along with their national, regional and local allies, by spreading the ports south of Washington into Oregon.

Ambre has announced a lease at the port of Morrow (near Boardman, OR) along the Columbia River. Their goal at the Port of Morrow is to minimize the criticism they are getting from the increased rail traffic opening up coal terminals will bring. Their plan is to bring coal via rail from the Powder River Basin to the Port of Morrow, put it on river barges and float the coal down river to coal terminals for export to Asia.

The other Oregon port being talked about is the port of St. Helens. Also along the Columbia, this port is almost directly across the river from Longview. Columbia River Keeper, which has been a leader in fighting coal exports, has been pursuing more information on the Port of St. Helen’s. Oregon’s Democratic Gov. John Kitzhaber, elected with strong support of the environmental community, has stated that the coal exports in Oregon won’t move forward without a vigorous public debate.

While coal companies keep playing every trick in the book, enviros are making no assumptions about King Coal’s determination to export coal and will be fighting them with every means possible.