Coal export plan takes an unlikely hit

Environmentalists received an assist from an unlikely source, Portland General Electric Co.
Coal terminals claim constitutional protections.

Coal terminals claim constitutional protections. Courtesy of Paul K. Anderson/Chuckanut Conservancy

Coal exports from the Columbia River Port of St. Helens took a major hit this week from an unlikely source — Portland General Electric Co., operator of Oregon’s only coal-fired power plant.

The big power company said that it would not sublease for a coal terminal an 852-acre tract that it leases from the Port of St. Helens, citing the problem of coal dust from an export operation. PGE has the right to sublease its land, which it also uses for two natural-gas-powered generators, and the Port had been counting on the PGE tract to put together a coal-export facility for the Kinder Morgan coal giant, which would ship about 15 millions tons a year.

PGE should know something about coal dust; since 1975 it has operated a 550-megawatt coal-fired plan at Boardman, along the Columbia River in north-central Oregon. The plant is served by rail. PGE will close Boardman in 2020; it has long been under fire from environmental organizations. PGE for many years also operated Oregon’s only nuclear-power plant, just downstream from St. Helens, so it has been a serious factor in the area’s economics for many years. The Trojan nuclear plant was shut down in 1993.

At St. Helens, Kinder Morgan wants to accept Powder River Basin Coal delivered by rail for trans-shipment to Asia. The proposal would involve upgrading a small local rail line, and added rail traffic was cited by PGE as another reason for not leasing its land to Kinder Morgan.

The PGE rejection is important but may not be a fatal blow for the Port’s coal interests. Port Commissioner Colleen DeShazer told the South County Spotlight, the weekly newspaper that broke the story Tuesday, that the development was a setback and could be a “back-to-the-drawing board situation,” but the port owns other vacant land, and is negotiating with a second export proposal.

Ambre Energy, the Austrialia-based energy giant, is also negotiating with the Port for an export terminal, and the PGE announcement did not mention Ambre; both proposals were came to light in late January. The issues of coal dust, however, would appear to be similar for the Ambre proposal, about 9 million tons a year brought to the Port by rail and barge. Ambre would use rail to bring the coal to the Port of Morrow, upstream on the Columbia River, where it would transfer to barges en route to St. Helens. The barges, utilizing locks at Bonneville and John Day dams, would increase barge traffic on the river by about 94 percent, according to a biological assessment produced by Ambre Energy.

Objections to coal exports have been building in Oregon, led recently in a strong letter from Gov. John Kitzhaber to federal agencies involved in siting coal-export terminals. Without explicitly rejecting coal exports, Kitzhaber urged the Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to look at the entire field of coal use as part of their review of regional export proposals.

“If the United States is going to embark on the large scale export of coal to Asia it is imperative that we ask -- and answer -- the question of how this decision fits into the larger strategy of moving to a lower carbon future. In the lack of a clear policy on this point we will simply be deciding by not deciding,” Kitzhaber wrote. "We must consider and balance of all the associated economic, environmental and health problems related to such a course of action for the Pacific Northwest and for our country.” The governor has close ties to major environmental organizations, and on several occasions has expressed concern about coal terminals in Oregon. In addition to St. Helens, Coos Bay is looking at coal.

Kitzhaber is requesting a “programmatic environmental impact statement,” which would go well beyond a series of investigations into water and air quality, rail congestion, and so forth. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has also called for a more comprehensive review involving all of the several West Coast terminal proposals.


Like what you just read? Support high quality local journalism. Become a member of Crosscut today!

Comments:

Posted Fri, May 4, 11:01 a.m. Inappropriate

" Portland General Electric is blocking a proposed 100-acre coal export terminal on land it leases at Port Westward near Clatskanie, citing concerns that coal dust might interfere with its adjacent generator." I think the above quote is from the Longviiew
newspaper and I cite it because it specifies PGE's dust concern more precisely than
does Mr. McKay. I am skeptical of the actual environmental threat posed by rail cars loaded with coal. We should by now be hearing the amount of dust that can be expected to escape from a train moving at cruising speed. I haven't seen that anywhere.

We finally have something (other than airplanes and scrap) that we can sell to Asia.
Resistance is to be expected I suppose.

kieth

Posted Sun, May 6, 2:30 p.m. Inappropriate

Kieth:
http://daily.sightline.org/projects/northwest-coal-exports/
for a lot of information on coal's impacts, including dust.

Just in case you are actually interested.

Steve E.

Posted Fri, May 4, 10:28 p.m. Inappropriate

Glad to see support is building over a wider geographical area for a much more comprehensive approach for the EIS! If this project can't pay for damage it will cause, including expensive mitigations for financial burdens imposed on dozens of municipalities, it should not be allowed to go forward.
In this case, greed begets greed to the extent that multiple proposals lessen the chance that any will likely succeed. It is basically a bad idea to sell polluting fossil fuel -that we no longer allow to be used- to a major competitor. And, it doesn't make much difference where coal is burned because al the toxic combustion products pollute our atmosphere. Degrading the environment that sustains us all for the sake of quick profits for a few is always a bad idea!

jwatts

Posted Fri, May 4, 10:30 p.m. Inappropriate

Glad to see support is building over a wider geographical area for a much more comprehensive approach for the EIS! If this project can't pay for damage it will cause, including expensive mitigations for financial burdens imposed on dozens of municipalities, it should not be allowed to go forward.
In this case, greed begets greed to the extent that multiple proposals lessen the chance that any will likely succeed. It is basically a bad idea to sell polluting fossil fuel -that we no longer allow to be used- to a major competitor. And, it doesn't make much difference where coal is burned because al the toxic combustion products pollute our atmosphere. Degrading the environment that sustains us all for the sake of quick profits for a few is always a bad idea!

jwatts

Posted Sat, May 5, 11:05 a.m. Inappropriate

Coal fired plants produce about 50% of the electric power used in the USA. So your plug-in car or bicycle is likely to be coal powered. Given the profligate use and misuse of energy in this country (hell, we drive our houses down the interstate) it surprises me to perceive the zeal with which environmental watchdogs attack coal exporting plans. There does not seem to be a balance between how we live and how we perceive threats to nature. Railroads are good aren’t they? well at least compared to Interstate
5? Has anyone done a study of their relative contribution to air and water pollution?

kieth

Posted Sun, May 6, 2:35 p.m. Inappropriate

A railcar that is carrying a polluting, nasty health destroying, environment degrading, climate destabilizing substance is still carrying a polluting nasty health destroying, environment degrading, climate destabilizing substance, even if its doing so more efficiently than, say, using trucks.

Steve E.

Login or register to add your voice to the conversation.

Join Crosscut now!
Subscribe to our Newsletter

Follow Us »