An Oregon agency dealt a blow to the coal industry Monday night, denying a necessary permit for a proposed export terminal and boosting environmentalists' hopes of scuttling U.S. coal exports from the West Coast.
The Oregon Department of State Lands denied Ambre Energy's permit, saying it would hurt fisheries used by native tribes.
"As many people know, this permit application has taken hundreds of staff hours to review,” said department Director Mary Abrams. “From reading more than 20,000 public comments to carefully analyzing technical documents and plans, this application has been scrutinized for months. We believe our decision is the right one, considering our regulatory parameters laid out in Oregon law and the wealth of information we have received from the applicant and the public.”
The Australian company needed to build a dock at Port of Morrow in Boardman, Ore., to load coal shipped from the Powder River Basin in Montana and Wyoming onto covered trains and then send it to Post Westward in St. Helens, Ore., for export.
"We disagree with this political decision. We are evaluating our next steps, and considering the full range of legal and permitting options," said Liz Fuller, a spokeswoman for the Morrow Pacific Project, as it is known.
Democratic Gov. John Kitzhaber, who is running for re-election, came out against the project earlier this year.
The project would export up to 8.8 million tons of coal annually, largely to Asia. Two other coal export terminal proposals are being examined in Washington, but the state has what many consider a higher environmental bar to clear.
Ambre said the project would add 2,100 construction and 1,000 operations jobs, providing $400 million of economic activity in its construction phase and $300 million annually once operational.
The coal industry could continue sending some of its product to British Columbia, as it currently does. But environmental campaigners say it's not clear how much space the Westshore Terminals just south of Vancouver will reserve for U.S. coal.
In any event, environmental groups plan to continue filing lawsuits charging Clean Water Act violations for illegal discharges of coal dust, hoping to raise the costs for coal companies looking to ship through the Pacific Northwest.
"I would not underestimate the ability to win on the Clean Water Act," Michael O'Leary, a spokesman with the National Wildlife Federation, told the Washington Examiner.
"Coal's hopes for shipping exports through the Northwest just went up in smoke," he said of the Oregon decision.