coal trains

Wed, 2012-10-17 18:00Ben Jervey
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Northwest Tribes Speak Out Against Coal Export Terminals

A quick update on the coal train exports front (which I’m henceforth going to start calling the Asian Coal Express, unless anyone else has any better suggestions. Leave 'em in the comments!) 

The New York Times ran a must-read piece for anyone concerned about coal companies targeting American taxpayer-owned public lands, carting it by rail over to coastal ports throughout the Pacific Northwest, loading it onto barges and Panamax vessels, and then shipping it overseas to sell at a steep discount to Asian markets.

The article looks at the battle over the Northwest export terminals through the lens of the local American Indian tribes, who worry about the impacts on local fishing rights and the threats to sacred sites.

Thu, 2012-10-11 09:24Ben Jervey
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White House Holds Meeting to Address Coal Export Terminals

It was barely two weeks ago that we reported on the Army Corps of Engineers’ decision to “fast track” approval of the Morrow Pacific Project, a coal export terminal on the Columbia River that would move over 8 million tons of coal from rail to barge every year.

This Morrow Pacific Project is one of a handful of proposed export terminals that the industry hopes to build to help link coal from the strip mines of the Powder River Basin to overseas markets. As American demand for coal falls, companies (many foreign owned) are scrambling to access the growing Asian markets.

At issue with the export terminals is the process of review and approval, specifically with regard to the environmental impacts. As we wrote about the Morrow Pacific Project, the Army Corps has, at present, the final word in determining whether or not a terminal can be built. This is due primarily to the “dredge and fill” rules established in section 404 of the Clean Water Act, and the origin of Army Corps decisionmaking harkens all the way back to the Rivers and Harbons Appropriation Act of 1899.

Here’s the problem: in determining whether or not to approve a new facility such as a coal transfer terminal, the Army Corps is only compelled legally to look at the immediate environmental impacts at the site itself. These site-specific reviews wouldn’t take into account any broader of cumulative impacts, like, say, the impacts of coal dust along the route of the rail or barge traffic, nor the even broader and inevitable impacts of the coal’s combustion on mercury pollution and global climate disruption.

Thu, 2012-09-20 12:44Ben Jervey
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Army Corps Fast Tracks Port of Morrow Coal Export Terminal

The Army Corps of Engineers has decided that the transfer of coal from trains onto barges in Oregon’s Columbia River is not worthy of a full environmental impact study. For now.

At issue is the Morrow Pacific Project, a coal transfer facility that is a key pivot point in Ambre Energy’s plans to export American coal to Asia. We’ve covered this project before (here's all the background on the Morrow Pacific Project), as well as the broader strategy of coal companies to ship American coal – much coming from taxpayer-owned public lands – off to China and other overseas buyers.

Basically, Ambre Energy (an Australian coal and shale company) is planning on shipping coal by train from the strip mines in the Powder River Basin to this Morrow Pacific facility at the Port of Morrow in Boardman, Oregon. There the coal would be offloaded onto barges – at the rate of two per day at full capacity – which would then float down the Columbia River to Port Westward (roughly 30 miles north of Portland), where it would again be transferred onto massive Panamax vessels for shipment to Asia.

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