SEATTLE — The Environmental Protection Agency has weighed in on the first of several coal-export projects in the Northwest, telling the Army Corps of Engineers that it should thoroughly review the potential impacts of exporting large amounts of coal from Wyoming and Montana to Asia.
A project at Port of Morrow in Oregon has “the potential to significantly impact human health and the environment,” the EPA said, so the corps should address overall impacts, including increases in greenhouse gas emissions, rail traffic and mining activity on public lands.
A subsidiary of Ambre Energy North America needs approval from the corps to build an offloading facility at the Port of Morrow, along the Columbia River near Boardman.
Trains would carry up to 8 million tons of coal a year from the Powder River Basin of Montana and Wyoming to barges at the Port of Morrow. The coal would be transferred onto vessels at the Port of St. Helens and shipped to Japan, South Korea or Taiwan.
It’s one of at least six projects proposed in Oregon and Washington to ship coal to power-hungry markets in Asia. Projects are planned at Coos Bay and St. Helens in Oregon, and near Bellingham, Longview and Grays Harbor in Washington.
Taken together, the projects could mean at least 100 million tons of coal shipped per year to Asia, and environmental groups such as Climate Solutions, Sierra Club, Columbia Riverkeeper and others want regulators to weigh the bigger picture of moving so much coal through communities in the West.
Coal destined for export via Coos Bay would travel by rail through Eugene.
“Collectively these many individual decisions will have a very dramatic impact on the region,” said Jan Hasselman, an attorney for Earthjustice representing the environmental groups. “If you look at the impact only in the context of each individual decision, there’s a consequence that the people most affected won’t be heard.”
The EPA’s letter to the corps this month said it was concerned about potential problems from diesel pollution, which can cause lung damage, and coal dust, which can cause both human health and environmental concerns. The agency recommended that the corps do a “thorough and broadly scoped cumulative impacts analysis” that could be used in the environmental analyses of other proposed coal projects of similar scope.
“We are recommending that because of the environmental implications of this project, that a comprehensive environmental analysis goes forward, and that would include the cumulative impacts,” said Kate Kelly, who directs the EPA’s office of ecosystems, tribal and public affairs for the Northwest region.
“Ultimately they’re the lead, they’ll make the decision on whether to do an EIS and how broad that EIS should be,” she added.
The Army Corps will consider the EPA’s concerns as it moves forward, spokeswoman Michelle Helms said in an e-mail.
“We are in the initial phase of the permit review process and will determine the scope of our review as we learn more about the potential impacts,” she said.