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Big energy firm still hungry after backing out of OR coal plan

The withdrawal of Kinder Morgan from plans for coal exports from the Port of St. Helens still leaves other efforts in the works. And the company is hunting for other coal port sites.
An existing marina at the Port of St. Helens.

An existing marina at the Port of St. Helens. Credit: Port of St. Helens

Coal at a Canadian terminal awaiting shipment.

Coal at a Canadian terminal awaiting shipment. Courtesy of Paul K. Anderson/Chuckanut Conservancy

Thirty millions tons of coal a year were taken off the region’s export board Wednesday when the pipeline and terminals giant Kinder Morgan announced that it would no longer pursue a major coal terminal at the Port of St. Helens on Oregon’s Columbia River shore.

The announcement came quickly at a regular meeting of the Port of St. Helens, as Allen Fore, a Kinder Morgan spokesman, made a brief statement that the company’s “due diligence” had turned up site issues that made the site unfeasible. The Port was in the midst of an effort to rezone some 957 acres of open land from agriculture to industrial use to allow Kinder-Morgan to build a terminal. The facility would have shipped from 15 to 30 million tons of coal a year brought by rail from the Powder River Basin.

No originating coal company had been named. The plan by Kinder Morgan, which bills itself as one of the North America's three largest energy firms, called for coal to be loaded onto ships bound for Asia. But Kinder Morgan remains nterested in being part of the rush to export coal to China from the United States.

The so-called “site issues” did not include a general pushback in the region against coal exports and the trains that carry the coal, Fore told commissioners. But the previous night a large and clearly anti-terminal crowd turned up at a county hearing on the rezoning proposal. “We wanted to be sure it wasn’t going to be a rubber-stamp deal and if it was, it would be appealed,” Darrel Whipple of Alston told Crosscut.

Whipple lives between two small Oregon towns that would be heavily impacted by perhaps a dozen coal trains a day if the terminal is built. City councils in Rainier and Clatskanie have raised objections to the project.

“Opposition has grown as people become more aware of the guaranteed impact along the rail line of the five cities that will be split along the rail line,” said Whipple, who is active in Clean Columbia County, a citizen group opposing the export terminal.
The short-line railroad Portland & Western would need major upgrades to handle coal; currently it handles one or two trains a day, running through the middle of small towns, where many people fear being unable to cross the tracks if additional trains rumble through.

Multiple other issues compound the coal port proposal, not the least of which is Oregon’s strict land-use laws, which could threaten rezoning of farmland to industrial use. State Land Board permits would be required for docks to load the coal, and air and water permits would also be required. Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber has been critical of coal exports and has called for an area-wide environmental study of the topic.

Wednesday’s announcement was the second major setback to Kinder Morgan’s plans at St. Helens. Last year the Port made agreements with both Kinder Morgan and Ambre Energy to pursue coal-export proposals. But Kinder-Morgan’s hopes to build were vetoed by Portland General Electric Co., which leases a large site housing a gas-fired generator nearby. PGE, which for years operated Oregon’s only coal-fired power plant near Boardman, cited concerns over coal dust and air pollution if KM constructed its coal terminal near the PGE generator, and refused to sublease its land to KM. That put in motion the Port’s plan to rezone the nearby tract to move the coal port further from PGE.

Kinder Morgan’s decision won’t affect Ambre Energy, an Australian firm that would like to export some 8 million tons a year from St. Helens, barging the coal down the Columbia from a transfer point at the Port of Morrow, upstream from Portland. That plan is currently in limbo, lacking a Corps of Engineers permit and state permits for the site where coal would be transferred from rail to barges.


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Comments:

Posted Thu, May 9, 10:07 a.m. Inappropriate

The coal port saga never ceases to be strange. It may simply be that these out-of-region energy behemoths simply underestimated both the difficulty of the Cascadia permitting process and the depth of citizen opposition to their carpetbagger overtures. How else to explain the boneheaded expectation that the Longview port proposal could be approved without an environmental impact statement? Even so, I think Longview ultimately has the best chance of grabbing the brass ring -- better transportation logistics and less local opposition.

woofer

Posted Mon, May 13, 8:16 a.m. Inappropriate

Last night I watched "Heat," a PBS Frontline program first aired in 2008 that illustrates how the oil, natural gas and coal industries will never stop doing what they do until every last molucule of petroclemicals have been extracted from the earth and incinerated. Approximately 50% of all energy production in the US is from coal, and half of all rail line shipments consist of coal. These companies regard their extraction investments (e.g., offshore oil drilling rigs up to 16 stories high that cost $billions to build) as sunk costs that must be recovered by extracting every last drop they can until it's all gone. I also learned that the petrochemical indstry spends about 0.1% of its profits on alternative energy technology R&D.; It will take a miracle to stop these shipments ramming their way through Seattle 18 times a day, up to 1.5 miles long. In fact, these trains are already here as can be seen by anyone who walks across the Main Street bridge on even an occasional basis. When all the new terminals are in place, everyone who is now rushing to sign leases and buy housing in all the new buildings being built in Interbay and Pioneer Square will wish they hadn't. These trains will also cancel out many of the benefits of the hundreds of $millions we're poised to spend restoring the Seattle central waterfront when the viaduct goes away.

Mud Baby

Posted Mon, May 13, 10:42 a.m. Inappropriate

Approximately 50% of all energy production in the US is from coal, and half of all rail line shipments consist of coal.

That's not even close to the truth. You probably meant electricity generation. It was once close to 50% from coal (apart from the production and refining of petroleum used mainly for transportation but also for home heating, which would dramatically reduce coal's role in the total energy mix even at coal's peak.)

Back to electricity: The U.S. currently generates about 37% of its electricity from coal. The share is dropping fast due to coal's ongoing replacement with natural gas.

Now: If you can't even get your energy stats right, how do you expect anyone to believe your alarms about coal trains? Or, as with everything else "progressive" in Seattle, could it be that facts don't matter as long as you can feel oh-so-self righteous and virtuous after you just made it up as you went along?

NotFan

Posted Thu, May 30, 10:44 p.m. Inappropriate

...Or maybe he was getting his figures from the industry:

http://www.coalcandothat.com/content.php?view=82

http://www.cleancoalusa.org/about-us-almost-half-america%E2%80%99s-electricity-generation

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7YBvbEGAWoQ

A reasonable mistake to say the least, especially when you got the industry putting this out there constantly, and to this day, for the past few years. Playing fast and loose with facts isn't a trait limited to so-called "progressives." In fact, it's a trait much less common among "progressives" than the industry hacks that are compensated based on how well they do exactly that.

That issue aside, you've done absolutely nothing here to refute anything he's said about coal trains, as you've focused only on what he's repeated from the industry on coal power. That's because you probably know his figures there were accurate, because they are.

guessrat

Posted Mon, May 13, 10:32 a.m. Inappropriate

They should just ship it through Canada, then, which is probably what they'll do.

NotFan

Posted Thu, May 30, 10:52 p.m. Inappropriate

Nowhere in Canada is there capacity for nearly 100 million tons of new coal exports from Wyoming. Nor will there ever be.

guessrat

Posted Mon, May 20, 10:47 p.m. Inappropriate

Environmental progress will not occur due to activism and politics. It occurs when people prosper and clear thinking people spend resources on research and cleaner processes. Technology and the inventions of the future are where it is at. America is cleaner due to our prosperity, China is getting cleaner for the same reason. India will do the same soon, current path sustaining. 25 years from now is a mystery, anyone who claims otherwise is not credible.

Now, coal and energy and jobs are important. The enviros FAIL when they oppose this for religious purposes, they work against their own plan. The average joe needs a job and the average American needs to heat their home and so on. Coal trains for import really are not the sin of some of the 70's pollution and other enviro highlights and successes. Coal trains are just not all that, sorry.

To summarize, we can't celebrate this article, because this is a fail, it will be cool to start running all this coal to the coast. I know you enviros don't like these companies and what they do, but the economic progress of the average man is our friend, when we can afford luxuries like environmentalism, that's the time when things are going our way, make a stand when it counts but this kind of NIMBYism is just not where to draw the line. The extremism of the environmental movement and its own feedback loop in all their green minds will kill it.

Furthermore it's morally wrong to use all this smart growth (another fail) legislation to compel business people to "do your will". We're talking about "power at the end of a gun" type stuff. I'm sure some are OK with that, but if you have a civilization gene, maybe consider the mechanisms some of these environmental motions are being forwarded. Force, compulsion, federal agents, "or else" type stuff. That's what this phony bureaucratic stuff is composed of.

Posted Thu, May 30, 10:51 p.m. Inappropriate

"America is cleaner due to our prosperity, China is getting cleaner for the same reason."

Not at all accurate. America is cleaner because we've passed a shit-ton of environmental regulations since the 1970s, including the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts, that have over time increasingly forced industry to adapt and comply. These regulations have indeed resulted in countless technological advancements that have dramatically cleaned up industrial processes. But it was regulation that made such investments in technology economically competitive.

You are right about one thing, though, China will probably get cleaner for the same reason: http://usa.chinadaily.com.cn/china/2013-05/29/content_16542639.htm

That reason, I'm afraid to say, is environmental regulation. It's likely their demand for coal will collapse long before any of these ports get built.

guessrat

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