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Army Corps will not require stricter coal export review

Agency says it will move forward with its basic regulatory review of Ambre Energy's plans


by: BUREAU OF LAND MANAGEMENT  - Coal is mined from Northeast Wyoming, part of the Powder River Basin, where Ambre Energy and other energy companies hope to start shipping coal from to Ports in the Northwest.Despite pressure from the governor and others concerned over potential environmental impacts, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will continue with its standard regulatory review process and not a significantly lengthier analysis of Ambre Energy’s coal export proposal.

The Army Corps is currently reviewing Ambre Energy’s Coyote Island Terminal project, part of the Australian-based energy company’s eventual goal of shipping Powder River Basin coal through Columbia County en route to Asia, where current export levels have not satiated demand.

The Army Corps announced last week it does not plan to put the proposal under stricter scrutiny at this time, instead continuing with its standard review procedure for such projects. As it works to further consider the project, the federal agency could still choose to mandate the more detailed, and presumably lengthier, “environmental impact statement,” that is if its staff determines effects of Ambre Energy’s water construction in Boardman, Ore., would likely have “significant effects” on the environment.

But until then, the Army Corps, as well as the Oregon Department of State Lands, will move forward with their separate environmental assessment processes. Both agencies are utilizing their own research as well as a nearly 500-page, Ambre Energy-funded “environmental review,” prepared by civil engineering firm Anderson Perry & Associates.

“Based on our scope of analysis, we have determined that we will continue our analysis and documentation of the potential effects of permitting this project with an environmental assessment, pursuant to the National Environmental Policy Act,” the Army Corps states on its website.

Gov. John Kitzhaber, the Environmental Protection Agency and environmentalist groups, including the Columbia Riverkeeper, have been calling for most of this year for the Army Corps to force a “Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement,” which would examine the environmental impacts of Ambre Energy’s proposal, and also the cumulative effects on the region of it and five other regional coal export proposals.

Of those proposals, Ambre Energy’s is the closest to fruition.

The Army Corps had already indicated it would continue reviewing Ambre Energy’s early-2012 application to build its planned rail-to-barge facility as an individual project and not cumulatively. Those covered barges would ship up to 8.8 million short tons of coal a year along the Columbia River to Port of St. Helens-owned land near Clatskanie. From there, ocean-going vessels would export the fossil fuel to the Asian market.

An Ambre Energy representative told The Spotlight this month its project, pending further delays, is now estimated to begin operating in mid-2014 — from initial goals of early 2013 — because the review process is taking longer than anticipated. That is not a firm date and could be changed as the regulatory process continues.