Politics Blog

Pro-coal terminal group's statement appears to sidestep reality

The spin cycle came on full speed on Monday afternoon, Aug. 18, after the state of Oregon issued its decision to reject a construction permit for a dock that would be used to load Asia-bound coal onto barges in Boardman, Ore.

Environmental groups were triumphant, as they watched the number of coal terminal proposals left standing in the Pacific Northwest go from three to two.

Oregon's decision fit the worldview of Climate Solutions Director of Communications Kimberly Larson, who doesn't think it the coal export business will be viable much longer anyway.

"Does this makes sense, in terms of furthering a 19th century investment, versus furthering 21st century energy practices?" Larson asked in an interview on Monday, Aug. 18.

This glosses over the fact that coal is very much a 21st century energy practice, at least in Asia. In 2011, 69 percent of China's energy consumption was coal, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

Larson's statement makes sense in the context of Climate Solution's mission, which is to advocate for the transition from fossil fuels to cleaner energy alternatives. She's just advocating.

A different kind of perplexing came in the statement Monday from the Alliance for Northwest Jobs and Exports.

The five-paragraph statement started out clearly enough, with criticism of the permit rejection on the grounds it was bad for the economy and jobs. The final three paragraphs, however, are where ANJE went a little sideways:

Today’s decision was not a part of the environmental assessment process for the Morrow Pacific facility, and made no determination on the projects compliance with state or federal environmental standards.

Likewise, today’s decision has no bearing on the ongoing Environmental Impact Statement process for proposed terminals in Washington State.

All three proposed coal export terminals in the region have been designed to meet or surpass the region’s high standards for environmental stewardship. The Alliance expects each facility will secure necessary permits and environmental approvals, as state and federal officials complete their separate and ongoing review processes.

(Emphasis mine) I quoted part of this section in my story for Tuesday's paper, and wrote that it implied the Coyote Island Terminal would be built. 

So this morning, off the deadline crush, I sought clarification from ANJE spokeswoman Kathryn Stenger, who was quoted in the statement above, and Julie Curtis, communications manager for the Oregon Department of State Lands, which rejected the coal-terminal permit.

DSL's Curtis on how the Port of Morrow project can stay alive:

"They can contest our decision and that goes through an administrative process, with an administrative law judge. They have 21 days to send us a request to go through that process to contest our decision. I don’t know if they are going to do that or not."

In a report on the permit decision by KUOW, coal-terminal applicant Ambre Energy's spokeswoman,  Liz Fuller, said the company is reviewing all of its permit and legal options.

As another option, Curtis said, Ambre Energy could submit a whole new design and permit, and start over. The permit process that just ended on Monday took 2.5 years.

Here's what ANJE's Stenger said when I asked her to explain her organization's word choice, which made it sound as if the Coyote Island project was alive and well:

"As you probably can appreciate, I can't comment on specific projects. The Alliance statement is in regard to the high environmental standards each project upholds."

Stenger directed me for further information to Fuller at Ambre Energy. I had figured I wasn't asking her to comment on specific projects so much as to clarify her own original comment, but I left it alone. I was just looking for the answer to the question, is the Port of Morrow terminal sunk or still swimming?

Pending a successful appeal or a do-over on the application, which should only take us to 2017, that terminal is sunk.

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