Sierra Club says Ambre Energy has taken another blow to its coal export plans

The Sierra Club said March 31 that the proposed Morrow Pacific coal export terminal faces the latest in a series of disappointments, with the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) saying that project proponent Ambre Energy can’t get its water quality certification until it receives a permit from the Oregon Department of State Lands.

That is a permit that State Lands already rejected in August 2014, the club noted. Unless Ambre prevails in its ongoing appeal of State Lands’ rejection of its “removal-fill” permit, which the company needs before building a dock at the port, the DEQ’s water quality certification will not be valid, the club added.

Brett VandenHeuvel of the Power Past Coal Coalition said: “This is another mark in the loss column for Ambre Energy because DEQ linked its certification to the rejected dock building permit. The end result is clear: Ambre is plagued by financial instability and unable to secure key state and federal permits. The coal export terminal threatens our communities, as well as Columbia River salmon and the people that depend on a healthy fishery. This coal export project is dead in the water.”

In August 2014, the Department of State Lands (DSL) rejected Ambre Energy’s request for a removal-fill permit on a number of grounds, including impacts on tribal salmon fisheries. Ambre appealed DSL’s decision to reject the permit, and the Oregon Department of Justice is defending that decision. Without a dock to move coal from coal trains to barges, Ambre has no way of moving over 8 million tons of coal down the Columbia River.

Said the DEQ website about the Ambre project: “On March 31, 2015, DEQ issued a 401 water quality certification which states that DEQ has reasonable assurance that the project will meet state water quality standards, if Coyote Island Terminal constructs and operates the facility as proposed, and meets all the certifications conditions. The 401 water quality certification includes specific conditions to protect water quality including turbidity monitoring and long-term stormwater treatment.”

The club noted that Ambre recently sold its North American coal operations to a main creditor, a private equity firm registered in the Cayman Islands.

Said Ambre Energy’s website on that point: “Ambre Energy Limited is an unlisted Australian public company located in Brisbane. The company no longer operates any businesses. Its only material asset is a minority stake in a former US subsidiary, Ambre Energy North America, Inc. (AENA). AENA was formed by Ambre Energy Limited to acquire and operate coal mines in the United States of America, and to develop coal export terminals on the US West Coast. AENA is now majority-owned by Resource Capital Funds.”

Ambre’s U.S. operations had included the Decker strip mine in the Montana end of the Powder River Basin and half ownership of the Black Butte Coal strip mine in southwest Wyoming. Said the Resource Capital Funds website, which lists Ambre as an investment: “Established in 1998, Resource Capital Funds (RCF) pioneered the concept of a mining-focused private equity fund. RCF is a specialist in mining and partners with companies to build strong, successful and sustainable businesses that strive to produce superior returns for all stakeholders.”

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.