Coal export companies eye Port of St. Helens land; port considers zone change April 1

Oregon's and Washington's governors are urging the national Council on Environmental Quality to push for a thorough examination of several coal export projects proposed for the Pacific Northwest.

"Coal will inevitably play an important part in the global energy supply in the short term," reads the joint letter from Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber and Washington Governor Jay Inslee, dated March 25.

"However," the letter continues, "before the United States and our trading partners make substantial new investments in coal generation and the infrastructure to transport coal, extending the world's reliance on this fuel for decades, we need a full public airing of the consequences of such a path."

The letter directly addressed permit applications by the Gateway Pacific terminal near Bellingham, Wash., the Millennium Bulk Terminals proposed in Longview, Wash., and the Morrow Pacific Terminal in Boardman, Ore. Combined, these proposals could "result in the export of up to 100 million tons of coal per year," the letter states. The coal will likely end up in Asian markets, used for energy production.

Ambre Energy, of the Morrow Pacific project, hopes to make use of a deep water dock at Port of St. Helens land at Port Westward near Clatskanie. Terminal operator Kinder Morgan has expressed interest in the Port Westward property as well, but has hit several hurtles along the way.

However, the Port of St. helens recently submitted an application to Columbia County to change zoning on land primarily owned by the port from agricultural to industrial.

Port Director Pat Trapp said there is no specific project in mind with this zoning change, saying that the change would be keeping in line with port development goals for the 957 acres. Coal opponents, however, say the change is to pave the way for Kinder Morgan.

The county Planning Commission is holding a public hearing on the proposed zoning change April 1 at 6:30.

"Coal is the major source of global greenhouse gas emissions, and its share is increasing rapidly," the governors' letter continues.

The governors urged the national Council to "undertake and complete a thorough examination of the greenhouse gas and other air quality effects of continued coal leasing and export before the U.S. and its partners make irretrievable long-term investments in expanding this trade."

Representatives of the Morrow Pacific project responded to the letter saying the Kitzhaber's and Inslee's request is "outside the scope of federal regulation and we do not agree with the request in the letter."

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