Ashes to Ashes, Dust to Dust—Coal Exporters Bury Plans

Fearful of growing opposition to the industry, plans for a new site for Pacific Northwest coal exports have been scrapped.

Residents of the Pacific Northwest luckily won't have to deal with dirty coal exports, thanks to the efforts of activists. (Photo: Lester Lefkowitz/Getty Images)

May 9, 2013· 2 MIN READ
A climate blogger, RL is chair of the California Democratic Party’s Environmental Caucus.

The battle over coal export terminals in the Pacific Northwest has shifted dramatically with the announcement on May 8 by Kinder Morgan that it would walk away from plans to build a massive coal export terminal near Clatskanie, Oregon, along the Columbia River.

Mr. Buffett and others pushing these deadly coal exports: it is time to take your toys and go home. Accelerating climate disruption is not negotiable.

The announcement is sending shockwaves across the Northwest, where coal export companies have faced unprecedented opposition from local residents, business owners, public health professionals, elected officials, farmers, conservationists, and many others.

“There is a thin blue line separating Asian coal markets and the coal mines in Wyoming and Montana,” says Bruce Nilles of the Sierra Club. “In these blue states of Washington, Oregon, and California there are tens of thousands of activists, an army of lawyers, and a growing number of elected officials who are ensuring that this line is never broken and coal exports never materialize. Mr. Buffett and others pushing these deadly coal exports: it is time to take your toys and go home. Accelerating climate disruption is not negotiable.”

Originally there were six proposed coal export terminals in the Pacific Northwest, and now three are either dead (Grays Harbor, Washington and the Kinder Morgan’s St. Helens proposal in Oregon) or tabled (Coos Bay, Oregon).

The terminals, the coal barons’ last best chance to revive an industry dying in America, would enable the vast coal deposits of the Powder River Basin in Wyoming and Montana to be shipped to Asia.

But climate change advocates have joined with Oregon and Washington residents concerned about coal dust and traffic tie-ups caused by mile-long trains.

“This is another huge victory for the people of Oregon and another blow to the coal companies,” states Brett VandenHeuvel, Executive Director for Columbia Riverkeeper. “The evidence is in that dirty coal export plans are not viable in the Pacific Northwest. Now families across the Northwest can breathe easier knowing that the largest coal export terminal proposed in the State of Oregon is off the table. Another one bites the dust.”

In January 2012, Kinder Morgan and the Port of St. Helens entered a lease option for the company to build a 15 to 30 million ton per year coal export terminal to serve markets in Asia. Overwhelming opposition across Oregon and the Northwest has trailed the proposal since Kinder Morgan proposed the deal.

According to residents who attended a Port Commission meeting on May 8, Allan Fore, representative for Kinder Morgan, announced that the company would no longer pursue the project. The Kinder Morgan lease was not on the Port’s meeting agenda.

Kinder Morgan’s announcement came just two days after 100 people attended a hearing to oppose the Port of St. Helens seeking to rezone new industrial land that could be used for a coal terminal, and after the City of Scappoose passed a resolution of concerns about coal export.

Although Kinder Morgan’s stated reason is that the site wasn’t big enough, VandenHeuvel points out that the company should have known that when they first proposed the project.

Still on the drawing board, and still fiercely opposed, are terminals in Cherry Point, near Bellingham north of Seattle; Longview, Washinton, near the Oregon border; and Boardman, Oregon, inland on the Columbia River.

Bellingham activist and photojournalist Paul Anderson tells TakePart: “The Gateway Pacific coal terminal at Cherry Point will be stopped. More and more community members understand the moral issues associated with burning hundreds of millions of tons of dirty Wyoming coal overseas.”

RL Miller is a climate blogger; on the executive board of the California Democratic Party’s Environmental Caucus; editor of twitter-based policy news feeds for House Progressive Caucus and others, @PCNEnvironment and @PCNNatRes; speaker at Netroots Nation; and, in spare time, a practitioner of law and keeper of chickens.