GRANTS PASS, Ore. — An Australian energy company has cleared a key hurdle for a terminal on the Oregon side of the Columbia River that would ship coal from the Great Plains to Asia.
The Oregon Department of Environmental Quality on Friday issued draft permits regulating coal dust at the Coyote Island Terminal LLC at the Port of Morrow in Boardman.
The department will hold public hearings on the air and water pollution permits July 9 in Portland and Hermiston. There is no specific date for final permits. Two of the permits are designed to control the release of coal dust into the air and water while it is being handled. A third permit covers potential erosion during construction.
Ambre Energy plans to build a totally enclosed facility to unload coal trains from Montana and Wyoming and load the cargo onto barges for transport downriver to the Port of St. Helens, where it would be loaded in huge ships to carry it to Asia.
"State and federal agencies are driving a rigorous and thorough environmental review of the project," Clark Moseley, president of the Morrow Pacific project, said in a statement. "While this step is not a green light to begin operations, the DEQ permits, once issued, will be the signal for us to start construction, putting hundreds of Oregonians back to work."
The project is still awaiting a permit for dock construction from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
The company, which owns a 50 percent interest in two coal mines in Montana, has contracts to sell 4 million metric tons a year of coal for 10 years to two South Korean utilities. But it hopes to eventually double that. The company is also in discussions with the state of Montana over a $10 million loan to take control of a Montana coal mine to boost exports to Asia.
Ambre Energy also holds a controlling interest in Millennium Bulk Terminals, which is working to transform the site of an old aluminum smelter in Longview, Wash., into a coal shipping facility. Another proposal is pending for Cherry Point, Wash.
Gov. John Kitzhaber has expressed reservations about the local environmental impacts of coal shipments and the effects on global air quality and greenhouse gas production from burning more coal.
Coal dust from China is regularly picked up in instruments on the top of Mount Bachelor, and is blamed for mercury pollution in rivers and fish around the West.
Environmentalists called for more extensive studies of increased barge traffic on the Columbia, potential water pollution, and public health effects.
"Oregon has broad authority to review the full impacts of dirty coal on the entire Columbia River, not just draw a box around the terminal site," said Brett VandenHeuvel, executive director of Columbia Riverkeeper. "But so far, DEQ is not doing everything in its power to protect people who rely on the Columbia for food and water."