Oregon Denies Coal Export Permit

Oregon’s Department of State Lands (DSL) on Aug. 18 formally denied Ambre Energy’s application to build a coal export terminal in Boardman on the Columbia River.

The project would have shipped up to 9 million tons per year (mtpa) of coal by barge to Port Westward near Clatskanie, where it would be loaded on bulk carriers for shipment to Asian markets.

The project went through a lengthy review process since Australian firm Ambre submitted its application in February 2012. The state extended the decision eight times, in part to allow multiple public comment periods, before issuing the denial this month.

In rejecting the application, the DSL said the proposed terminal is “not consistent with the protection, conservation and best use of the state’s water resources.” Further, Ambre “did not provide sufficient analysis of alternatives that would avoid construction of a new dock and impacts on tribal fisheries.”

The project drew fierce opposition from local and national environmental groups, including the Sierra Club and Riverkeeper, as well as opposition from the state’s Native American tribes, who feared the impact on tribal fishing grounds. A number of Oregon politicians such as Governor John Kitzhaber also came out in opposition to the proposal.

The collapse in regional coal demand—the last two coal-fired power plants on the West Coast, one in Oregon and one in Washington, must shut down or refuel by 2020 and 2025, respectively—has left Western coal producers searching for new markets, and coal exports have been proposed as one solution. Ambre co-owns several mines in Wyoming and Montana and had hoped to use existing coal transport infrastructure to export its coal through Boardman.

Ambre has 21 days to appeal the denial. Company spokesperson Liz Fuller said it was evaluating its options before making a decision.

Two other coal export projects planned in Washington are still alive, both significantly larger than the one proposed for Boardman. The Gateway Pacific project in Bellingham would have a capacity of 49 mtpa, while the Millennium Bulk Terminal project in Longview, a joint proposal by Ambre and Arch Coal, would ship about 44 mtpa. Neither project is expected to receive a decision before 2017.

—Thomas W. Overton, JD is a POWER associate editor.

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