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March 15, 2012

New Plans for Coal Exports are Bad Business

Coal train - Paul K. Anderson
As coal use drops dramatically in the U.S. and clean energy continues to grow, King Coal is looking for new customers. The coal industry is now pursuing its corporate profits via coal exports at the expense of the health, safety, and quality of life of thousands of families in several states, including Montana, Idaho, Washington and Oregon.

Right now, several major coal companies are proposing to develop Northwest ports to export coal from the Powder River Basin to Asia; including ports at Cherry Point, WA; Longview, WA; Grays Harbor, WA; Coos Bay, OR; St. Helens, OR; and Port of Morrow, OR. You can see a map of the proposed ports here.

Coal exports could make thousands of Northwest residents sick with serious respiratory health problems in cities along the rail line, while fouling the air and water that farms and Main Street businesses depend on.  For residents in Montana who have been battling the effects of coal mining in the Powder River Basin, the idea of coal companies tightening their grip on their resources and quality of life to tap international markets is particularly threatening.

Millennium Bulk Terminals' recent permit application for Longview, Washington, proposes exporting 44 million tons of coal annually, making it the largest coal terminal on the West Coast.

In February 2011, the company was exposed for deceiving Washington state officials about the amount of coal to be exported from the Longview terminal - although the company originally claimed they would only export five million tons of coal per year, news coverage revealed they actually planned to ship up to 60 million tons per year. Decision-makers sent them back to the drawing board, and now they’re pushing for the terminal yet again.

Another active coal export proposal is at Cherry Point near Bellingham, Washington, where SSA Marine's Gateway Pacific Terminal would handle up to 48 million tons of coal annually. The health and environmental effects would be drastic in this beautiful coastal area north of Puget Sound, as coal piles and massive diesel tanker ships contaminate waterways and devastate local fishing and tourism industries.

Meanwhile, three other questionable coal export proposals are active in Oregon and Washington. In these projects, the coal companies are trying to bypass the public permitting process by negotiating with municipalities without public comment or input.

The International Port of Coos Bay in Oregon has been especially secretive, keeping coal export development plans behind closed doors. The Sierra Club recently filed a legal challenge in order to obtain more information about the plan.  The Port of Coos Bay has already secured a state dredging permit which would be the largest in state history and could devastate local oyster farming and fishing industries.

We can’t let coal companies make huge profits at the expense of these communities’ public health, economies, and environment - not to mention at the expense of climate disruption on our planet as they export US coal for others to burn, polluting communities every step of the way, including those living near huge power plants abroad.

This summer, officials from local counties, the Washington state Department of Ecology, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers are collaborating on a statewide environmental review process of these proposals.  It's critical that Northwest leadership ensure state and federal agencies fully analyze all the health and environmental impacts of exporting coal from the Powder River Basin through any Northwest Port. 

The Sierra Club's "Coal-Free Northwest" campaign and the Power Past Coal Coalition are mounting an effort to ensure that public agencies fully and fairly consider impacts on communities across the region in their permitting process for the coal export terminals at Cherry Point and Longview - and beyond.

We are determined to stop these dirty coal exports across the region and instead build a clean energy future that protects the Pacific Northwest’s environment, health and economy.

-- Mary Anne Hitt, Director of the Beyond Coal Campaign. Photo by Paul K. Anderson.


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