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Coal Crackdown Hits West Coast Export Terminals

State and local officials along the West Coast are bowing to pressure from green groups and cracking down on coal export terminals in Oregon and California.

The Oregon Department of State Lands denied a removal-fill permit to a major West Coast coal export terminal Monday. State officials said that Ambre Energy’s planned dock facility for its Morrow Pacific Terminal is “not consistent with the protection, conservation and best use of the water resources of this” and that the project would “unreasonably interfere” with recreational fishing.

Environmentalists cheered the announcement, saying the rejection would keep the environment safe and reduce coal use. Green groups have heavily opposed coal exports, which they say will exacerbate global warming and pollute the air and water.

“From this decision to news that China’s coal consumption levels are expected to decline, the writing on the wall is clear: Coal exports are going nowhere fast,” Devin Martin, a representative with the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign. “This decision will only catalyze local movements against coal exports throughout North America. From British Columbia to Washington State to the Gulf of Mexico, communities are saying no to coal exports.”

But the state’s rejection of the terminal hinged on the impacts the dock facility would have “particularly on a small but important and long-standing fishery” and not on the grounds that it would harm the climate.

“Today’s decision to deny Morrow’s permit, hurts all trade related industries and workers in our region. Increased trade through area ports is critical to the economic recovery for the entire Columbia River corridor, and is one of the few bright spots in Oregon’s economy today,” said Kathryn Stenger, spokeswoman for the Alliance for Northwest Jobs and Exports — a pro-export business coalition.

Oregon’s denial of the permit was not part of environmental assessment of Ambre Energy’s planned dock and the state has not determined whether or not he project complies with state and federal environmental laws.

The Alliance for Northwest Jobs and Exports says that all three proposed Northwest coal export terminals “have been designed to meet or surpass the region’s high standards for environmental stewardship.”

While most of the debate surrounding coal has focused on Environmental Protection Agency regulations on power plants, a more localized debate has been raging across the country over exporting coal abroad. Environmental groups have launched numerous campaigns to stop proposed coal export terminals across the country.

In recent years coal exports have been booming as European nations turns back to coal for cheaper power and Asian economies hunger for more coal to continue their growth. Exports increased more than 44 percent from 2008 to 2013, from 81.5 million short tons to 117.7 million short tons.

Environmentalists have railed against this development and have been actively campaigning against coal terminals on the West Coast and along the Gulf Coast. According to the Sierra Club, since 2010 “coal companies have pushed for a total of six coal export terminals for the Pacific Northwest. Three of these have already been pulled off the table.”

“Three proposals remain: the Port of Morrow and two in Washington state at Longview and Cherry Point. Combined, the three terminals would be capable of exporting more than 100 million metric tons of coal each year,” according to the Sierra Club. “In response, the public has submitted more than 400,000 comments, and nearly 15,000 people have attended public hearings for the facilities.”

Now, Southern California is becoming a battleground over coal exports. The Long Beach City Council will hear an appeal from environmentalists “of its June approval of contracts to continue and expand export of millions of tons of coal and petcoke annually from the Port of Long Beach,” reports Politico.

The Port of Long Beach has been exporting coal and petcoke for decades, but environmentalists have challenged its latest contract to continue shipping these fossil fuels abroad. Environmentalists are alleging that the port has to follow a California state law which would require them to analyze the environmental impacts of what they ship.

The port said it was exempt from this law. National environmental groups — the Natural Resources Defense Council, Earthjustice, Sierra Club, and Communities for a Better Environment — disagreed and have challenged the port’s decision.

“All we are asking is that the City Council do what common sense… require: ask the Port to analyze the environmental impacts of this important decision,” blogged NRDC attorney Morgan Wyenn. “Only then can the Port and the City make an informed, thoughtful decision as to whether we really should be in the business of exporting coal.”

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