Debate continues over coal at Northwest ports
By Christina Williams
Sustainable Business Oregon editor
The EPA is urging caution on at least one proposal to export coal to Asia via a Northwest port.
The proposed coal export terminal at the Port of Morrow near Boardman was in the spotlight this week as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency called for a full review of the potential impacts of exporting large amounts of coal from Wyoming and Montana to Asia.
The Associated Press is reporting that the EPA said that the Port of Morrow project has “the potential to significantly impact human health and the environment." It is asking for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to thoroughly investigate overall impacts, including increases in greenhouse gas emissions, rail traffic and mining activity on public lands.
The Port of Morrow project is one of several coal export sites under consideration in the Northwest, sparking debate among environmental groups that argue that such terminals would be detrimental to the environmental health of the region.
A New York Times report highlights the tension between Boardman, which sits in an area replete with wind turbines, biofuels refineries and other clean energy advances, and the interests of environmental groups, which are usually based in cities like Portland and Seattle.
The Times quotes Oregon State Rep. Greg Smith, R-Heppner, who runs an economic development firm working for Ambre Energy, the Australian-owned coal company behind the project.
"There's no doubt the nation's moving in a direction of renewable energy," he told the Times. "But until the world fully develops those alternatives we still have to have economic development."
Ambre would invest $159 million in the “Morrow Pacific Project,” an operation that would transport coal by rail from the Powder River Basin to the Port of Morrow near Boardman and transfer it to covered barges. The barges would then ship the coal down the Columbia River to a new $40 million enclosed transloading barge at the Port of St. Helens. That facility would transfer the coal to an ocean vessel.
Officials with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers have said they will consider the EPA's concerns as they move forward with their review process.
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