Today, the Oregon Department of State Land announced that it had denied a permit for a proposed coal export terminal at the Port of Morrow on the Columbia River. The coal export terminal is being proposed by Ambre Energy, an Australian company, that plans to 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.
Today’s announcement is the second major blow to the proposal in the last few days, following last week’s ruling from a federal judge that the Army Corps of Engineers was illegally withholding documents related to its environmental review of the same project.
Ambre needs a permit from DSL to construct an in-water dock and other structures necessary for handling and transloading of coal.
Crag has been representing a coalition of groups in an effort to convince the State to deny the permit. Over the past year, Crag and our clients provided DSL with expert reports, studies, and hundreds of pages of comments documenting the potential adverse impacts to human health, aquatic habitat, endangered species and climate change.
After granting eight extensions of time to allow for Ambre to submit additional information, DSL finally denied the permit finding that the company had not provided adequate information on alternative sites and because the project would unreasonably interfere with fisheries and Tribal treaty rights on the Columbia River. The Tribes who hold treaty rights on the Columbia have been staunch critics of the project.
Without the permit, Amber cannot construct the coal export terminal, and today’s decision may ultimately end being the final nail in the coffin for this proposal. The company has 21 days to file a request for an administrative appeal of the agency’s permit decision.
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.
Over the past several months, more than 20,000 citizens have contacted Governor Kitzhaber requesting a denial of the permit. In May, 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. Coal contains toxins like lead and arsenic known to harm human health. In addition to dangerous diesel exhaust from trains, barges and ships, toxic coal dust will threaten air quality and worsen asthma, respiratory illness, and other health problems. One hundred sixty-five Oregon physicians voiced their concerns directly to Governor Kitzhaber in the Position Statement on Coal Exports from Concerned Oregon Physicians to Governor Kitzhaber.
Ambre Energy has been plagued by financial questions and has made little progress in obtaining state or federal permits. Earlier this year, the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality announced Ambre Energy’s proposal to build the coal export terminal will require an additional water quality permit, known as a 401 Water Quality Certification. To date, the agency has received a record-breaking 16,500 public comments on Ambre’s proposal.
Stay tuned as Crag continues our work with Columbia Riverkeeper and the Power Past Coal coalition to stop these dirty coal export proposals in their tracks.