Oregon Issues Key Permits for Coal Export Terminal

Published April 15, 2014

The Oregon Department of Environmental Quality issued three key permits for a proposed coal export facility in Boardman, Oregon, but Ambre Energy still must obtain at least one additional state permit and a separate state lands lease before it can build and operate its Morrow Pacific terminal on Coyote Island.

Expanding Low-Sulfur Coal Markets
The Morrow Pacific terminal is one of three proposed projects in the U.S. Northwest for shipping American coal overseas. The terminal would allow Montana and Wyoming low-sulfur coal to reach overseas markets where the coal is in high demand. The low-sulfur coal will allow developing nations to reduce power plant pollution at a reasonable cost.

In the United States, sale of the coal will boost the Montana and Wyoming economies, as well as the economies of Oregon and Washington, where the coal terminals would operate.

Many Hurdles Remain
The Oregon DEQ issued air quality, water quality, and construction stormwater permits needed to move forward with the coal export project. Buried in its approval of the three permits, however, the DEQ announced for the first time that Ambre Energy would have to obtain an additional water quality permit, known as a 401 certification. That presents a tougher environmental and bureaucratic obstacle than the other three permits.

Shortly after the DEQ issued its permits, the Oregon Department of State Lands (DSL) notified Ambre Energy it would have to obtain a lease from DSL before it can begin operations. DSL pointed to state ownership of submerged lands and noted an export terminal would have to be built above submerged land.

The project also requires a permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Government-Induced Uncertainty
John Charles, president and CEO of the Oregon-based Cascade Policy Institute, said DEQ’s approval of the permits is a step in the right direction but the new requirement for a 401 certification could halt the process.

“A 401 certificate is a very big deal. It can be a deal-breaker,” said Charles. “Section 401 became a political tool first employed by environmental activists decades ago. It killed at least one very large project in southern Oregon in the late ’80s.”

“The situation in Oregon is one more example of just how much costly uncertainty government has created in the energy market,” said Trent England, executive vice president at the Washington-based Freedom Foundation. “Multiple rounds of permits with lawsuits are likely to follow.”

“A segment of the political left is basically against any form of energy that actually works,” England added. “They can’t admit that, so their strategy is to use government to create so many hurdles that it becomes a de facto prohibition on many energy projects.”

Julie Curtis, spokesperson for the Oregon Department of State Lands, told Environment and Climate News the DEQ’s environmental permitting decisions and DSL’s leasing decisions will operate independently of each other.

“DSL’s permit decision will not be influenced by DEQ’s actions,” said Curtis.

Alyssa Carducci ([email protected]) writes from Tampa, Florida.