Ore. state agency denies permit for Ambre Energy export terminal

Source: Nathanael Massey, E&E reporter • Posted: Wednesday, August 20, 2014

The Oregon Department of State Lands (DSL) denied a key permit for a proposed coal export terminal yesterday, dealing a setback to companies who have long hoped to send U.S. coal across the Pacific Ocean.

In announcing its decision on the Coyote Island Terminal, which was to be constructed near Boardman, Ore., on the Columbia River, the agency cited the more than 20,000 public comments it had received and wrote that the project “is not consistent with the protection, conservation and best use of the state’s water resources.”

It also noted that Ambre Energy, the company behind the terminal, “did not provide sufficient analysis of alternatives that would avoid construction of a new dock and impacts on tribal fisheries.”

In a email sent soon after the announcement, Ambre spokeswoman Liz Fuller said that the company disagreed with the decision and was “evaluating our next steps and considering the full range of legal and permitting options.”

Only two years ago, energy companies were planning or seeking permits to build coal export facilities at six sites in Oregon and Washington. Since then, public outcry over the volumes these sites would have accommodated — as much as 100 million tons of coal per year, had all six been completed — have led to the withdrawal of three of the six proposals.

DSL’s action marks the first time that an Oregon or Washington state agency has rejected a permit for any of the proposed terminals.

Proposals for the two largest terminals — one of which would be built by Ambre Energy — are still awaiting environmental impact statements from Washington state agencies.

Compared to the terminals in Washington, the Coyote Island terminal would be more modest in size, facilitating the export of about 8.8 million tons of coal per year.

But for many local communities, the prospect of increased river and rail traffic was enough to turn public sentiment against the projects.

“I can tell you that my community is going to be elated” by DSL’s decision, said Kate McBride, a member of the Hood River City Council. Hood River is located downriver of Boardman, and residents worried that the barge traffic created by the terminal would hurt the region’s strong recreational industries, as well as increase the risk of industrial accidents, she said.

Environmental groups have also argued that shipping cheap, U.S. coal to Asian markets undermines the country’s climate objectives. But in celebrating DSL’s decision, most focused on the project’s more local impacts.

“This is huge,” said Brett Vandenhueval, executive director of the group Columbia Riverkeeper and a member of the Power Past Coal coalition, which has pushed back against all the proposed Northwest export projects. “DSL has showed that our rivers, our salmon, our health is more important than coal.”