science environment

Judge Upholds Permit Denial For Columbia River Coal Terminal

By Tony Schick (OPB)
Portland, Oregon Aug. 12, 2016 5:23 p.m.

An Oregon judge Friday upheld the state's denial of a permit needed by a coal export proposal on the Columbia River.

Back in 2014, the Oregon Department of State lands denied a permit for the Morrow Pacific project to construct a dock in Boardman, Oregon, a component of the project's plan to ship coal from the Powder River Basin in Wyoming and Montana down the Columbia River and eventually overseas to Asia.


The decision is the latest blow to proposals for coal export projects in the Northwest, all of which have struggled with opposition, permit denials and a declining market for the product.

Six years after the first of six coal export projects was proposed, none have been approved.


Plans for a coal terminal at the Port of Morrow, initially backed by Australian-based Ambre Energy, called for shipping up to 8 million metric tons of coal per year through the Northwest to likely buyers in Japan, South Korea or Taiwan. The project has since changed ownership to Lighthouse Resources Inc.

Related: Two Challenges To Oregon's Coal Export Permit Denial Move Forward

The terminal's permit rejection in 2014 came after a fight between the project developer and Columbia River tribes over fishing at the dock site. Impacts to tribal fishing was one of the chief reasons the Department of State Lands cited for the permit denial. Appeals soon followed.

The project owners and the Port of Morrow jointly argued against the Department of State Lands decision on several fronts, including that the scope of the agency's decision was too broad and that it erred in its consideration of fishing impacts and its rejection of the terminal's mitigation plan.

Wyoming and Montana, both top coal producing states and the sources of coal for the export terminal, also filed motions claiming the state's decision violated federal commerce law.

All of those motions were denied.

Michael Klein, General Counsel for project owner Lighthouse Resources Inc., said the ruling was not final determination for the project.
“This is a ruling on the motion for summary determination, not a ruling on the merits,"Klein said. "We look forward to addressing the merits of our appeal at the hearing scheduled for November.”

The ruling  was cheered by environmental groups opposing the terminal. The Columbia Riverkeeper, Friends of the Columbia Gorge and Sierra Club filed motions arguing in favor of the permit denial.

"From the coalfields, to the rail towns, to the ports and even overseas, communities are standing up to the coal industry and winning,” Cesia Kearns of the Sierra Club Oregon chapter said in a statement. “Today's victory is one that reflects the leadership of Oregon, but will protect the health, safety, water, and climate for communities near and far.”