Politics Blog

OR coal port appeals permit rejection, claims decision was political

A proposed coal terminal in Oregon is not dead yet, despite that state’s rejection of a required permit.

Ambre Energy and Port of Morrow have appealed the Department of State Land’s decision in August to reject an application from Ambre to build a dock at the port’s Coyote Island facilities in Boardman, Ore. The dock would be used to load barges with up to 8.8 million tons of coal per year, for delivery to larger shipping vessels and eventual export to Asia.

In its appeal, filed Monday, Sept. 8, Ambre said a decision on a bulk-commodity dock that should have been based on technical environmental matters was in fact politically motivated:

“Because that bulk commodity is coal, it is a process that the State of Oregon does not support politically. Instead of fairly evaluating Coyote Island Terminal’s application, DSL chose to base its decision on factors that far exceed the scope of analysis DSL has previously engaged in, improperly elevating special interests above long-standing, statutorily preferred Port industrial uses.”

Port of Morrow, in its appeal, countered the state’s claim that the dock would interfere with tribal fishing rights. That was one of several reasons the state cited for rejecting the permit.

“The dock is slated to be constructed in an area specifically set aside by the United States Army Corps of Engineers for port industrial development, and will not interfere with fishing.”

See the joint Ambre Energy/Port of Morrow press release here.

Opponents of coal exports also issued a release after the appeal. Their statement cast the state’s decision in a political light, too, although the state in its own words said it followed the letter of its law in rejecting the permit:

“The department’s permitting authority is designed to ensure the protection, conservation and best use of Oregon’s water resources, and that the removal and fill would not unreasonably interfere with the paramount policy of this state to preserve the use of its waters for navigation, fishing and public recreation.”

Here’s the political angle coal opponents Columbia Riverkeeper, Earthjustice and Sierra Club took (from the press release):

“‘The State of Oregon and the people of Oregon overwhelmingly rejected coal export because we are choosing a better future,’ stated Brett VandenHeuvel, Executive Director of Columbia Riverkeeper. ‘... Coal is too dirty and would degrade our salmon economy.’

“... More than 3,000 medical professionals and public health advocates have requested a denial of the Morrow Pacific project permit. 86 elected officials across the region requested a denial of this permit, close to 600 Northwest businesses have voiced opposition to coal export and DSL’s own public comment period for this permit drew in a record breaking 20,000 citizen comments.”

The environmental groups had a good early analysis of the port and coal company’s chances on appeal. They also hinted at how long the appeal process could take:

“Because Oregon denied the permit on multiple grounds, Ambre needs to convince the Administrative Law Judge that Oregon was wrong on each count. If the Administrative Law Judge rules for Oregon, Ambre could appeal that decision to the Oregon Court of Appeals.”

Given that some life remains in the Oregon coal-export proposal, three such projects remain in the Pacific Northwest. In addition to Coyote Island, Ambre Energy has an interest in the Millennium Bulk Terminal proposal for Longview, Wash. Seattle-based SSA Marine would build Gateway Pacific Terminal on Cherry Point. That terminal is in the early stages of an environmental review officials said would take 13 months to complete.