Featured Stories

Other Pamplin Media Group sites


EPA: Coal project could have 'significant' impact on health and environment

Agency asks Army Corps of Engineers to give thorough review of Ambre Energy's coal barge proposal

Shipping coal through Columbia County could have the potential to 'significantly impact human health and the environment' according to the U.S. Environmental Projection Agency.

The EPA recently reviewed Ambre Energy's proposed Morrow Pacific Project, which could eventually transport up to 8.8 million tons of coal per year from Wyoming and Montana to the growing Asian market.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is in the initial stage of evaluating the impacts of the proposed project. In an April 5 letter to the Army Corps, EPA Director of Ecosystems, Tribal and Public Affairs Kate Kelly asked the Corps to conduct a thorough and broad analysis of any potential impacts of recently proposed plans to utilize the Columbia River to barge coal. Two primary concerns for the EPA are related to coal dust and diesel pollution.

'The large quantity and high friability of Wyoming and Montana-mined coal contributes to the intensity and uncertainty of potential impacts from coal transport and transloading activities on the Columbia River - a federally designated National Scenic Area and one of our nation's great waterbodies,' the letter states.

In its permit application, Ambre Energy wrote it would ship 8.8 million tons a year at full capacity. To ship that much material, 11 trains a week a week would move Powder River Basin coal to Boardman. Then, 12 weekly barges would travel up and down the Columbia River toward a loading facility at Port of St. Helens-owned land near Clatskanie. Three large Panamax ships would take the coal to Asia every week from Port Westward.

The project would initially ship around 3.85 million tons of coal a year.

Ambre Energy officials proposed shoreline plantings and derelict pile removal to mitigate the impacts of dock construction. Ambre officials promise no coal dust or debris will result from their operations.

The company is undertaking a publicity push to persuade community members that its proposed project is the right move for the region, considering it will create 25 jobs in the county and generate revenue for the Port.

A letter sent by Ambre Energy to residents of Columbia County last week asked them to mail an included comment card to the Army Corps requesting that the project get a 'fair chance.'

'I support Ambre Energy's Morrow Pacific project because it demonstrates that environmental stewardship and economic opportunity can go hand in hand,' the card states.

Without delays, Ambre officials say they could begin shipping coal as early as mid-2013.

Following a packed public meeting in January, the Port of St. Helens approved lease option agreements with both Ambre Energy and Kinder Morgan, which also plans to use Port Westward to transport coal to Asia. The Kinder Morgan project is in an earlier stage than the Ambre plan and would use rail to move the fossil fuel through Columbia County.

After the public comment period ends May 5, the Army Corps of Engineers will determine if and how the project can proceed based on its environmental impacts.

There are six projects in the works to export coal from both Oregon and Washington, including at Millennium Bulk Terminals in Longview.

IMPACT TO AQUATIC LIFE

A number of aquatic species with designated critical habitat on the Columbia River could be affected by shipping barges of coal on the Columbia River, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

They include:

• Lower Columbia River Chinook salmon

• Upper Willamette River Chinook salmon

• Snake River Fall run Chinook salmon

• Columbia River chum salmon

• Middle Columbia River steelhead

• Lower Columbia River steelhead