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DEQ issues crucial permits for Oregon coal export terminal.

But agency also adds a new regulatory hurdle.


A project aiming to be the first coal-exporting facility in the Northwestern U.S. made huge strides Tuesday, when the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality issued three key permits for the Morrow Pacific facility in Oregon.

DEQ issued air quality, water quality and stormwater construction permits for Morrow Pacific's proposed Coyote Island Terminal in Boardman.

“As we’ve said all along, we are committed to meeting the high environmental standards set by the state of Oregon,” said Clark Moseley, Morrow Pacific CEO. “By issuing these three permits after a rigorous process, the Department of Environmental Quality has affirmed that the project complies with environmental rules and regulations of the state of Oregon,” Moseley said.

However, DEQ also announced that it is adding a fourth permit requirement. Buried in DEQ's website announcement that it issued the three permits, the agency noted that after considering the massive amount of public comments on the project, it decided Morrow Pacific needs to get a 401 certification, which is a water quality permit.

'We're thrilled," said Mike O'Leary, a Portland-based outreach consultant for the National Wildlife Federation. "The 401 is the highest bar to coal exports that DEQ has raised to date," he said. "It is a really big deal and I think it's a momentum shift."

DEQ previously resisted environmentalists' claims that the coal export facility needed a 401 water quality permit, O'Leary said.

Morrow Pacific plans to ship up to 8.8 million tons of coal per year from the Powder River mines of Wyoming and Montana by rail to Boardman in Eastern Oregon. Then the coal would be transfered onto barges to ship through the Columbia River Gorge to the Port of St. Helens. From there it would be put on oceangoing ships bound for Asia.

“The permits went through a rigorous internal review and an extensive public process involving more than 16,500 public comments,” DEQ stated on its website.

“The issuance of these permits does not mean that the project has been approved to proceed,” DEQ noted. “Rather, it means that the standards for these particular DEQ permits have been met.”

Morrow Pacific also still needs permits from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Oregon Division of State Lands. The Army Corps has indicated its decision will be forthcoming this spring. Morrow Pacific hopes to be operational by the beginning of 2015.

DEQ noted it isn’t by law allowed to review the permit applications based on climate change considerations, a key factor why so many Oregonians and Washingtonians are opposed to exporting American coal to Asia.

Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber has called on federal authorities to consider wider environmental ramifications of the three coal export facilities proposed in Oregon and Washington. “DEQ supports the governor in this effort,” the agency noted.

Steve Law can be reached at 503-546-5139 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

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