Groups press Ore. governor to block exports

Source: Manuel Quiñones, E&E reporter • Posted: Friday, October 4, 2013

Environmental, health and community groups under the Power Past Coal banner today urged Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber (D) to push state agencies into rejecting a coal export proposal along the Columbia River, or at least increase their scrutiny.

“We need Oregon’s state agencies to get off the sidelines on this issue and for the governor to take a firm stand to protect Oregon’s air, water, communities and climate,” said Power Past Coal advocate Cesia Kearns. The groups held a joint press conference in Portland, Ore.

Kitzhaber has expressed concerns about Ambre Energy Ltd.’s Morrow Pacific project, one of three coal export proposals in the Pacific Northwest. He has also called on the federal government to conduct a broad environmental review of its potential effects.

But with the Army Corps of Engineers, the main federal permitting agency involved, set on project-level reviews and not yet promising to conduct a full environmental impact statement on Morrow, coal export opponents want Kitzhaber to act.

Groups point to neighboring Washington state where the Department of Ecology, along with local regulators, is conducting the type of broad reviews that export skeptics want, including potential climate change impacts.

The Oregon Department of Environmental Quality issued three draft permits connected to Morrow earlier this year. The Oregon Department of State Lands is likely to weigh in later this year.

Export opponents not only have questioned the environmental, public safety and health wisdom of building the new terminals, but also say the global coal markets may not sustain them. They have also questioned Ambre’s own finances.

Boosters are, in response, touting the port infrastructure as economically beneficial on a broad scale. The American Farm Bureau Federation is, for example, backing the coal terminals.

“Coal shipments through these new facilities will lower costs to other shippers, like agriculture, by improving the economics of infrastructure investment and operation,” said Steve Baccus, president of the Kansas Farm Bureau.

And despite ongoing financial difficulties and tough market conditions, coal companies continue betting on expanding demand overseas, particularly in Asia.

“There’s plenty of business for everybody in the world that we see coming,” said Fred Palmer, government relations senior vice president for Peabody Energy Corp., also touting coal’s affordability.

A recent report from the International Energy Agency said Southeast Asia’s demand for energy would grow by more than 80 percent by 2035 and that coal would be the fuel of choice (ClimateWire, Oct. 2).

In the United States, Palmer said, carbon capture efforts will eventually become widely commercially available, especially in places where the CO2 from a plant can be used for enhanced oil recovery

He said sequestering the carbon underground may take longer, one reason he said U.S. EPA’s proposal for emissions reduction, which relies on carbon capture and storage, may be legally vulnerable.

Before such a system can be widely available, Palmer said, “the costs are going to be high and we are going to have to socialize that cost if we decided to go that route.”