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Coal Chugs Right Through Salem

Coal Chugs Right Through Salem

About the cover
A coal train runs through Northwest Washington, already a familiar sight for some Pacific Northwest communities.  Will Salem and our surrounding communities become part of the route?   by guest writer Cesia Kearns.  Photograph by Paul K. Anderson.

The first two months of 2013 have seen significant developments in the possible export of coal through the Pacific Northwest to Asia, all of which suggest that the coal industry faces significant, growing opposition and obstacles to their plans to export upwards of 150 million tons of coal through Northwest communities each year.

Export developers have faced new uncertainty; Ambre Energy, the Australian company which hoped to place coal export terminal sites in Washington and Oregon, faces mounting challenges, according to a new report from the Seattle nonprofit think tank, the Sightline Institute (“Amber Energy: Caveat Investor”).   The Sightline report describes several financial and regulatory challenges and major liabilities for Ambre.

The plan for coal trains to pass through Salem, down the Willamette Valley to The Port of Coos Bay faced challenges, too.  The Port recently received a tough ruling on a legal challenge to their withholding of public records concerning intentions to develop a coal export terminal. The Coos County Circuit Court upheld the ideals of fairness and transparency in a case brought by the Sierra Club against the Port for its refusals to comply with routine requests for public records.

The Court has ordered the Port to turn over records without a fee. In a transcript of the ruling, Judge Betchold said the Ports request for information from the Sierra Club was, “invasive, burdensome, and harassing; and sought constitutionally privileged information irrelevant to a fee waiver determination.”

Former Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer, a previously outspoken proponent of coal, was recently quoted regarding his skepticism around the viability of coal export proposals, saying that plans for west coast coal exports were “dead”.

In an interview with the Flathead Beacon, Schweitzer said, “Ambre Energy Ltd. has an active interest … But plans? You call those plans? I don’t see the plan that’s getting built. A plan is when you put it on a piece of paper and pay somebody to start pouring concrete.”

Newly elected Washington State Governor Jay Inslee is also dubious.  In his first official press conference he stated, “It is clear that there are ramifications ultimately if we burn the enormous amounts of Powder River Basin coal that are exported through our ports.”

“It is an enormous number of tons of carbon dioxide that will be released into the atmosphere,” Inslee continued.  “it doesn’t matter where it’s burned, it ends up in Puget Sound.  That is a physical fact.…I will say that from what I know, this is the largest decision we will be making as a state from a carbon pollution standpoint certainly during my lifetime, and nothing comes even close to it.”

In January, Greenpeace International released an analysis showing that proposed increases in US coal exports are the greatest threat to the climate in the US.

The report, called “The Point of No Return,” quantified the carbon pollution that would be released if governments and corporations move forward with 14 planned coal, oil and gas projects around the world. The collective global warming pollution from those projects would likely send the planet careening over a climate change cliff, causing far more droughts, storms and floods like the ones that devastated people around the world in 2012.

Meanwhile, The Oregon Department of State Lands (DSL), which is slated to make a decision about granting one of the permits necessary for the proposed Morrow Pacific project on April 1st, sent a letter to developer Ambre Energy setting out the additional information Ambre must provide about project impacts, including adverse effects on water resources, Tribal Fishing Treaty Rights, and cultural resources.

The letter outlines DSL’s legal standards for issuing its permits, highlighting the agency’s authority to condition or reject this risky project. Opponents of coal exports feel the DSL letter illustrates how much more information is needed to make an accurate assessment of the full and cumulative impacts posed by coal exports.

Agencies such as the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the National Marine Fisheries Service, Department of Housing and Urban Development, and National Parks Service have begun to weigh in as well, in comments on the scope for the draft environmental impact statement for the proposed Cherry Point export terminal.

EPA made this statement: “Because pollutants, including mercury, particulate matter and ozone precursors can travel long distances in the air, we would recommend using existing models to review the reasonably foreseeable potential for air and water quality impacts in the United States.”

“This evaluation would appropriately include the potential increases in fugitive coal dust and diesel emissions that would accompany the additional rail traffic to the proposed new terminal, and the potential related human health impacts to communities along the proposed routes.”

Local Action
The Sound the Alarm Rally
Wednesday, March 13  from 11:30 to 12:30
Steps of the State Capitol

Write a letter to Governor Kitzhauber about his decision for a comprehensive Environmental Impact Study regarding the exportation of coal through the state of Oregon.

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