Coal plan in Longview keeps growing

The potential exports from the one port could equal the entire U.S. shipments abroad last year.

The potential exports from the one port could equal the entire U.S. shipments abroad last year.

Now, it's up to 80 million tons.

The tonnage envisioned for the proposed Longview coal export terminal just keeps growing. When Millennium Bulk Logistics, a subsidiary of the Australian firm, Ambre Energy, got a shoreline development permit from the Cowlitz Councy commissioners last November, it said it planned to ship up to 5.7 million tons of coal a year through the old Reyolds aluminum site on the Columbia River. Documents unearthed during the discovery process by the environmental groups appealing the permit showed that the company had been seriously contemplating shipments of up to 60 million tons. Now it turns out that the figure may be more like 80 millioin tons.

Millennium executives “had internal discussions as recently as December on a project that could handle 80 million tons of the fuel annually — about 15 times the volume disclosed publicly,” Matthew Brown reported for The Associated Press. “Documents obtained Thursday [Feb. 24] by The Associated Press included e-mails in which executives discussed equipment needed for a port capable of handling far more coal than the roughly 5 million tons a year mentioned in their initial application for the project.”

Is this really Millennium's plan? When a plan is not a plan can get you an argument — and already has. “Millennium CEO Joe Cannon, has said, “I don't want to sound like Bill Clinton here, but it depends on what you mean by “plans,' " The Daily News in Longview reported. “'There are people at the company in Australia and potential investors who would love to put more coal through this site. ... There is a big interest in expanding this facility. ... There are no current plans to do so.”

No plans, perhaps, but documentation — and 80 million tons would be a lot of coal. The export facility on Vancouver's Burrard Inlet can handle only about 8 million tons, and the much larger one at Roberts Bank, in Delta, B.C., has the capacity to ship up to 29 million. The United States' entire coal exports last year amounted to only 80 million tons.

Millennium has asked the state Shorelines Hearings Board to dismiss the an appeal of the county permit, arguing among other things that, under Washington law, the impact of burning coal in China or mining it in Montana is nobody's business. The hearing on that motion, scheduled for last Friday (Feb. 25), was canceled at the last minute as the two sides reportedly discussed a settlement. A hearing on the underlying issue is still scheduled for April 11.

Back in Cowlitz County, the commissioners said last Tuesday (Feb. 22) that they couldn't reconsider their decision to grant the permit just yet. They would have to wait until the appeal was resolved. They said the issue was out of their hands. “Despite calls from protestors at a courthouse rally Tuesday morning,” The Daily News reported, “Cowlitz County officials said they cannot revoke a permit for a controversial West Longview coal terminal. Commissioner George Raiter said the county simply does not have legal authority to yank the permit, despite evidence released last week that Millennium Bulk Logistics didn't disclose plans for a dramatically expanded terminal.”

Meanwhile, demand for coal in China and India, just across the Pacific, is expected to keep rising. “It is clear that China, India and emerging Asia represent stunning long-term growth opportunities,” Peabody Energy, the world's largest private-sector coal producer, says in its latest annual report. “China is expected to quickly become the world’s second largest economy behind the United States, with annual coal use set to grow the equivalent of two times current U.S. coal use in the next decade. India, too, is moving full throttle and is likely to become the world’s fastest growing coal importer. Forecasts suggest India will become the second largest coal consumer behind China in as little as two decades. Should China and India alone use as much coal per person as the United States, the world would consume nearly twice as much coal as it does today.”


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About the Authors & Contributors

Daniel Jack Chasan

Daniel Jack Chasan

Daniel Jack Chasan is an author, attorney, and writer of many articles about Northwest environmental issues.