Earlier this year, Crag represented Columbia Riverkeeper in a challenge to the Army Corps of Engineers’ refusal to release documents related to the environmental review for the proposed coal export terminal at the Port of Morrow.  In August, a federal judge ordered the Army Corps to release nearly all the disputed documents which included draft press releases, draft communication plans, an internal memo and briefing materials related to the coal export proposal.

The documents have now been produced and reveal a shift in the Army Corps’ scope of environmental review for the Port of Morrow project.  In 2012, the Army Corps announced it would be conducting a very narrow environmental review of the Port of Morrow proposal through an Environmental Assessment (EA), rather than a more comprehensive Environmental Impact Statement (EIS).  However, the documents show that scientists in the Corps’ Portland office initially determined that the proposal could have significant effects on the environment, and therefore required a full environmental review through an EIS.

Following scrutiny from Army Corps’ Washington D.C. headquarters, the Portland Division changed course and decided to move forward with the much more narrow review of the proposal through an EA.  This narrowed review process limits further public involvement in the Corps’ decision making and significantly lowers the level of scrutiny the agency will give to the impacts the proposal will have on the Columbia River and the surrounding environment.

Brett VandenHeuvel, Executive Director of Columbia Riverkeeper, states, “These FOIA documents confirm that coal export is harmful to our river.  The Corps’ questionable approach highlights the importance of strong state-level review.”  In August, the Oregon Department of State Lands stood by the determination that the Corps has shied away from and made the decision to deny Ambre Energy a permit to construct a dock for the Port of Morrow project after finding that the proposal would have significant impacts on the Columbia River, including salmon fishing.

Read the related AP story here.