Environmental groups appeal permit for Louisiana coal terminal

The Sierra Club said Sept. 24 that it, the Christian Ministers Missionary Baptist Association of Plaquemines and the Louisiana Environmental Action Network are challenging the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality’s approval of a Clean Air Act permit for a proposed coal export terminal in Plaquemines Parish, La.

Western Kentucky coal producer Armstrong Coal, which has been planning an IPO under the name Armstrong Energy, intends to develop a new terminal that would ship up to 10 million tons of coal per year.

“The proposed terminal could cause serious environmental and public health impacts, exposing the residents of the historic community of Ironton and other nearby towns to coal dust and toxic runoff,” the club said. “In addition, the proposed terminal would impair state-wide efforts to restore Louisiana’s coastline by directly interfering with a major wetland restoration project.”

In addition to the threats it poses to public health, the proposed RAM terminal of Armstrong Coal would impair the local wetland ecosystem, as it would be located directly adjacent to the LCA Medium Diversion, a project that the state of Louisiana has determined to be vital to the state-wide wetland restoration plan, the club said. Both the U.S National Marine Fisheries Service and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency offered public comment that the RAM terminal would interfere with the wetlands restoration project, the club noted.

“Hurricane Isaac showed how risky coal exports are for Louisiana,” said Devin Martin of Sierra Club. “This is an area where storm levees failed and that experienced devastating flooding. Coal for export is kept in open-air piles, and after Hurricane Isaac, we saw coal washed directly into the river and surrounding wetlands. Coal runoff contains arsenic, mercury, and other toxic chemicals, and these toxics are going directly into the water. It’s unfathomable that the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality is not considering these huge risks, and that the agency rubber-stamped RAM’s air permit. Instead of courting more coal terminals, state and local officials should focus on restoring wetlands and strengthening storm protection for Plaquemines to help prevent future flooding and accidents.”

The RAM terminal project is just one effort to add new barge-to-ship terminal capacity in the Gulf Coast region as coal producers gear up for an expected long-term surge of demand for Illinois Basin coal in export markets. Efforts to add rail-to-ship coal terminals in Oregon and Washington, needed for the same reason, are also facing environmental opposition.

Said a May 30 Form S-1/A filing by Armstrong Energy about this project: “In June 2011, we acquired an 8.4% equity interest in Ram Terminals, LLC (‘Ram’). Ram owns 600 acres of Mississippi Riverfront property approximately 10 miles south of New Orleans and intends to permit, design and construct a seaborne coal export terminal capable of servicing up to Panamax-sized bulk carriers with an annual through-put capacity of up to 6 million tons, and up to 10 million tons per year in the event of the widening of the Panama Canal. The terminal will be used to facilitate and ensure our access to international markets, as well as to handle export coal volumes of both metallurgical and thermal coal of other coal companies.”

About Barry Cassell 20414 Articles
Barry Cassell is Chief Analyst for GenerationHub covering coal and emission controls issues, projects and policy. He has covered the coal and power generation industry for more than 24 years, beginning in November 2011 at GenerationHub and prior to that as editor of SNL Energy’s Coal Report. He was formerly with Coal Outlook for 15 years as the publication’s editor and contributing writer, and prior to that he was editor of Coal & Synfuels Technology and associate editor of The Energy Report. He has a bachelor’s degree from Central Michigan University.