science environment

Kitzhaber: 'It Is Time Once And For All To Say No To Coal Exports'

By Cassandra Profita (OPB)
April 25, 2014 11:55 p.m.
Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber

Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber

File photo


Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber gave an interesting speech to the Oregon League of Conservation Voters last weekend.

In it, he voiced clear opposition to coal export projects in the Northwest, and he committed to doing all that he can "to ensure that we do not commit ourselves to a coal-dependent future." He also pointed out a number of problems with the Morrow Pacific coal export project on Oregon's side of the Columbia River and said he expects the state to make a decision on permitting the project by the end of next month.

There were a few caveats in Kitzhaber's pledge against coal exports – namely the constraints of state law – but not many. Here's what he said:

First, it is time once and for all to say no to coal exports from the Pacific Northwest. It is time to say yes to national and state energy policies that will transform our economy and our communities into a future that can sustain the next generation.

A little more than a year ago, Kitzhaber and Washington Gov. Jay Inslee asked the federal government for a comprehensive review of all the coal export proposals in the Northwest.

"We have repeatedly called for an open process to consider how we use publicly owned coal resources and the health impacts of coal use and transport," Kitzhaber said in his speech:


To date, the federal government has refused to look at the full impacts of the coal export proposals and we have seen no sign of emergence of a thoughtful and comprehensive energy policy for our nation. In the absence of such a policy, it is too easy to decide by not deciding, locking ourselves into a coal-dependent future for our West Coast ports and for Asia. That is not a course I am willing to pursue.

Kitzhaber commended Inslee for the extensive review Washigton is doing on the environmental impacts of coal exports. That state is including rail congestion, coal dust, and air pollution from burning coal in Asia in its review of the Cherry Point project in Bellingham. But, Kitzhaber said, Oregon doesn't have that option for the Morrow Pacific project proposed by Ambre Energy on the Oregon side of the Columbia River:

Unfortunately, Oregon law is more limited in terms of what we can consider in reviewing large-scale projects such as the proposed Ambre coal export facility. I assure you, however, that we are carefully reviewing all of the issues under our authority, and that I will do all that I can within the context of existing Oregon law to ensure that we do not commit ourselves to a coal-dependent future.

Now, what exactly Kitzhaber can do within existing law to stop the Ambre coal export project is a big question. The Oregon Department of State Lands needs to approve a permit for the project developer to build a dock for coal barges at the Port of Morrow. Oregon DSL also recently notified the company that it will need to lease state land for the parts of its projects that take place in the Columbia River.

In his speech, Kitzhaber noted the company has missed numerous deadlines for supplying the state with additional information about the impacts of the proposed dock, and Columbia River tribes have documented conflicts the project would create with tribal fishing rights:

The Australian corporation proposing a coal export terminal in Boardman has repeatedly failed to provide requested information about its proposal. More recently, several Columbia River tribes have provided documentation that the proposed facility would destroy at least three Native American fishing sites protected by the treaty. This information, along with prior submittals, shows that increased barge traffic would interfere with fishing and other public uses of the Columbia River.

So, Kitzhaber underlined some key problems with Ambre Energy's coal export project after declaring his opposition to the whole idea. However, the governor didn't say that he would intervene to make sure the state denies the project's permit. Rather, he made a point of saying that he can only do things that are legal under state law. That means if the company can prove that it meets the state's permitting guidelines, it will get permission to build.

But Kitzhaber also called out a deadline of May 31 for the state to make a decision on the permit. I think that means the state won't be giving the company any more deadline extensions for providing the requested information. If the state is still missing information by the end of next month, perhaps that will provide the state with a legal means of denying the permit. As Kitzhaber said:

Ambre Energy has been given two years to show that its proposal will meet Oregon's regulatory standards and to date it has been unable to demonstrate its ability to do so. The time has come to call the question, and I expect the Oregon Department of State Lands to make its final decision by no later than May 31, 2014.

I'm reading in between the lines a little bit. What do you make of his speech? What would you like to see Kitzhaber do now that he has openly voiced opposition to coal exports?

-- Cassandra Profita_