The Oregon Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) failed to protect clean air by issuing an air permit for Ambre Energy’s proposed Coyote Island coal export project, according to a request to reconsider filed April 11 by the Sierra Club, Columbia Riverkeeper, Oregon Physicians for Social Responsibility, and Climate Solutions.
The groups are seeking reconsideration of the air permit that was issued by the DEQ on Feb. 11 for Ambre Energy’s proposed Morrow Pacific Project. The permit authorizes Ambre to handle over 8 million tons of coal per year at the Port of Morrow along the Columbia River.
“DEQ got it wrong when they approved the air permit. Today’s challenge seeks to protect Oregon families from the threats posed by Ambre’s struggling coal export proposal,” said Brett VandenHeuvel, Executive Director of Columbia Riverkeeper.
One point of appeal is that the environmental groups claim that emissions from the tugs moving barges of coal from the site should be included in the air permit. “DEQ’s failure to consider air pollution emissions from the tug boats at the facility, while they are engaged in assisting in the industrial process of moving coal from one form of transport to another, as primary emissions from this source lacks any evidence or support in the record or elsewhere,” said the petition. “The failure is particularly egregious where, as here, the pollution emissions will result in NO2 pollution concentrations far above levels that EPA has determined are safe.”
The project is known as the Morrow Pacific project and is backed by Australia’s Ambre Energy, which in the last few years has also invested in the U.S. coal production industry. The project, which has also been seeking permits from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Oregon Department of State Lands, is projected to be operational by the beginning of 2015. The Corps has indicated that a permitting decision will be made in the spring of 2014.
The Morrow Pacific project involve the shipment of low-sulfur coal by rail from Intermountain states to the Port of Morrow near Boardman. There it will be transferred to an enclosed storage facility and loaded onto covered barges through an enclosed conveyor. The coal will then be shipped down the Columbia River to Port of St. Helens’ Port Westward Industrial Park. There, enclosed transloaders will transfer the coal onto covered oceangoing Panamax ships bound for Pacific Rim countries such as Japan, South Korea and Taiwan.
Initially, one four-barge tow per day will move down the Columbia River, shipping 3.5 million metric tons of coal per year. At full capacity, barge tows will increase to two per day with expected shipment of 8 million metric tons per year.
This is one of a handful of coal export terminal projects in Oregon and Washington that has provoked a storm of environmental opposition. The points of criticism from environmentalists range from the coal dust shed by trains moving this coal to the ports, to the CO2 that will be produced when this coal is burned in foreign power plants.