Energy | Ecotrope

Coal Export Critics Ask: What About Pollution From Trains And Barges?

Ecotrope | Dec. 7, 2012 12:49 a.m. | Updated: Feb. 19, 2013 1:28 p.m.

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Around 800 people attended Thursday's informational meeting in Portland on the Morrow Pacific coal export project, which would transfer coal at sites in Boardman and near Clatskanie along the Columbia River.

Around 800 people attended Thursday's informational meeting in Portland on the Morrow Pacific coal export project, which would transfer coal at sites in Boardman and near Clatskanie along the Columbia River.

The Oregon Department of Environmental Quality fielded questions about coal exports from a room of about 800 people in Portland Thursday night.

The agency held the last in a series of informational meetings on the air and water quality permits Ambre Energy needs to build a coal export terminal at the Port of Morrow in Boardman.

A lot of coal export opponents wanted to know why the state agency isn’t considering the transportation impacts of the Morrow Pacific project.

This week, the Sierra Club released its own modeling of air pollution associated with the Ambre Energy project. The group’s data show total air emissions from the project, including diesel emissions from trains and tugboats hauling coal, would exceed the limits set by the Environmental Protection Agency to protect human health.

Opponents have asked DEQ to deny or delay permits for Ambre Energy until a more comprehensive environmental impact assessment is completed.

Critics of coal exports dominated the room at an Oregon Department of Environmental Quality meeting in Portland Thursday night.

Critics of coal exports dominated the room at an Oregon Department of Environmental Quality meeting in Portland Thursday night.

Morrow Pacific says the Sierra Club data is “not realistic or reliable,” and DEQ says mobile sources of pollution aren’t considered in the state’s permitting process for the Morrow Pacific facility.

The project would export nearly 9 million tons of U.S. coal a year to Asia. It would be shipped by train to in Boardman, where it would be transferred to barges. The barges would unload the coal onto ships at a dock near Clatskanie on the Columbia River before being exported overseas.

Opponents of the project complained Thursday night that DEQ doesn’t consider a lot of the environmental impacts of the project in its permitting process.

“They’re not even discussing the barges leaving the Port of Morrow or the trains filled with coal coming from the Powder River Basin,” said Portland resident Bonnie McKinlay. “Not to mention the bigger picture of the coal being shipped to Asia where it will be burned in coal-fired plants bringing much carbon to our already climate disrupted atmosphere.”

Oregon DEQ senior permit writer Mark Fisher, who is writing the air quality permit for the Morrow Pacific project, said his agency will look a the Sierra Club’s modeling data but doesn’t consider mobile sources of pollution such as diesel emissions from coal trains in its permitting process.

Coal export opponents want an environmental review that includes air pollution from transporting coal on trains and barges. They built a snow man outside the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality meeting to protest the Morrow Pacific coal export project.

Coal export opponents want an environmental review that includes air pollution from transporting coal on trains and barges. They built a snow man outside the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality meeting to protest the Morrow Pacific coal export project.

“We do not permit mobile sources, and we wouldn’t typically require modeling of mobile sources,” Fisher said. “There are regulations on a national level for emissions from mobile sources.”

DEQ permits “stationary sources” of air pollution, Fisher said, and will consider the air pollution from the coal terminal in Boardman where coal will be unloaded from coal train cars, stored in a covered facility and transferred to barges.

The total air pollution emissions from that facility, including fugitive coal dust, are estimated to be less than 1 ton per year.

At Thursday’s informational meeting, however, Fisher said his agency would welcome a more extensive environmental impact assessment of coal export projects by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

The EPA has asked the Corps to consider the diesel emissions from transportation in its environmental assessment of the Morrow Pacific project, which is required before the company can build the dock for coal barges in Boardman.

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