An Oregon state agency is expected to decide Monday whether developers can build a proposed coal export terminal, a ruling that would have broad ramifications for the coal industry's ability to tap into energy-hungry Asian markets.
The Department of State Lands has a Monday deadline to issue a permit for Ambre Energy's Morrow Pacific Project. The Calgary company needs the permit to build a dock in Boardman, Ore., for eventual export of up to 8.8 million tons of coal per year from Port Westward in St. Helens, Ore.
If the agency denies the permit, it could shatter the coal industry's hopes of exporting from the West Coast and tapping Asian markets. Two other proposals have been filed in Washington state, but the bar for environmental review is higher there than in Oregon.
Oregon's Democratic governor, John Kitzhaber, who is running for re-election this year, has come out against the proposed export terminal, which has generated community concerns about pollution along the Columbia River. The project has turned into a hot-button issue, pitting key Democratic factions — labor unions and environmentalists — against each other.
Despite the deadline, the project's fate will not be final Monday. Previously, Kitzhaber had imposed a May 30 deadline, but his administration ultimately pushed that back — the eighth time the Department of State Lands delayed a ruling on the dock, which local tribes contend would disrupt fisheries.
The agency said in May that it needed more time to assess potential environmental harm to fisheries along the route from Boardman, where coal from the Powder River Basin in Wyoming and Montana would be loaded onto covered trains, to Port Morrow.
Ambre, with the coal industry, would likely fight a rejection in court.
The coal industry, which is flagging in the United States as electric generators turn to cheap natural gas and proposed carbon emissions rules threaten its long-term viability, has sought to export its product to Asia and Europe. The Paris-based International Energy Agency expects European coal demand to eventually subside, but sees growth in Asia. However, U.S. exports to Asia from anywhere but the West Coast are unlikely to be competitive.
View Proposed train route for coal exports in a larger map