Politics Blog

Coal terminal fight strikes familiar chords

A community has filled its yards with signs and packed meeting rooms to oppose a coal terminal. Residents have appealed for more opportunities for public comment. They worry about coal dust blowing off the open coal cars headed to the proposed terminal. The land around the site is environmentally sensitive and needs to remain undisturbed, opponents say.

Whatcom County? In this case, I’m referring to Plaquemines Parish, south of New Orleans, La.

Talk about wetland restoration. The delta that comprises the parish naturally blunts the force of hurricanes making landfall from the Gulf of Mexico. A coastal restoration project is planned there, to bolster that line of defense and improve habitat.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on Monday, Nov. 10, issued a permit for a coal terminal in the parish that would export 6 or 8 million tons of coal a year, depending on which report you read. The terminal would be the third in Plaquemines Parish alone.

The corps did not hold a public hearing, as requested by environmental groups and nearby municipalities before the permit was issued.

A report from Nola.com (The Times-Picayune) is here. It includes a helpful map of the terminal site and the railroad tracks where coal-bearing trains from Appalachia (and possibly Powder River Basin, Wyo.) would travel.

This report from thinkprogress.org, dated Oct. 22, compares the attitudes surrounding coal port proposals on the Mississippi River delta and the Pacific Northwest:

“The industry has said the Gulf is their [coal export] plan B,” said Devin Martin, a Sierra Club organizer in Louisiana. Coal companies, he added, “are saying we have an unorganized populace and a corrupt political system they can take advantage of. We are here to show them that’s not true.”

The article notes that four of six Washington and Oregon coal terminal proposals have been scrapped. ...

Perhaps more surprising is that proposals to enlarge export capacity in the Gulf Coast region are also running into heavy weather. There, as many as a half dozen plans have fallen by the wayside, and political opposition to others is building, even in fossil fuel friendly states like Texas and Louisiana.

A press release blasting the corps’ decision to issue the permit mentions the sagging coal economy as one reason for the ill fate of some coal port projects.

For what it’s worth, Armstrong Energy, which owns and operates seven Kentucky mines and would build the Louisiana terminal, reported increased revenue and higher coal prices in 2Q 2014 relative to April-June 2013. Armstrong’s 3Q report comes out later this week.

Armstrong also states its commitment to a healthy environment on its website.

The corps’ permit decision is not the final hurdle for the Plaquemines Parish terminal. More decisions will be made by government agencies and in the courts before the terminal is built, or not.