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Q&A: Longview Coal Export Plan Receives Key Permit Approval

Washington’s Cowlitz County Commission voted Tuesday to approve a key permit for a company that wants to export coal to Asia through a port in Longview.

Millenium Bulk Logistics is backed by an Australian mining company called Ambre Energy. The company would transport coal from Wyoming and Montana by train to Longview before shipping it overseas.

The project is projected to create 70 full-time jobs and 120 construction jobs at the private port facility in Longview.

It could also generate nearly $5 million in tax revenue for county and state governments. But environmental groups that have been fighting coal mining and coal-fired power say this is a worst-case scenario for them, and they’ve threatened to appeal the county’s approval.

OPB’s Ecotrope blogger Cassandra Profita is here now to talk about the project and its implications.

Why is this project attracting so much attention?

This would be the first major coal export facility on the West Coast, though domestic coal is exported through Canada now.

So it’s a major new development for the region to begin with. And they are talking about a significant amount of coal – more than 5 million tons a year to start with, which is about twice what the Boardman coal-fired power plant burns in a year. And opponents suspect that number could grow.

But I think the biggest attention-getter is what’s driving this proposal, which is growing demand for energy in China and other growing Asian countries.

A lot of environmental groups in the U.S. and Europe have been fighting against coal-fired power plants because they contribute to global warming, and this really would be a setback for them.

It raises a lot of questions about environmental regulation, and how effective they are in a global economy given the threat of climate change.

What exactly did the Cowlitz County Commission approve?

Cowlitz County approved what’s called a shorelines permit, which is required in Washington state for building along waterfronts.

The developer needs this permit and a few others to build the export terminal at this private port facility. The permit allows them to replace dock pilings and upgrade a conveyer system at the site, which used to be home to a Reynolds aluminum smelter.

And the company said if they get this permit, they’ll be ready to start construction next month with the first shipments of coal going out by the end of next year or early 2012.

But opponents can challenge the county decision to the Washington Department of Ecology, and they say they want to hear what state leaders have to say about the project, given how much effort has gone into creating clean energy in Washington.

What are some of the benefits of this project?

Millenium executives say the Longview project would create 71 family-wage jobs and 120 construction jobs. They also project it will generate nearly $5 million in tax revenue for county and state governments.

Industry groups say with air pollution regulations getting tighter in the U.S. and domestic coal plants like Boardman looking at shutting down the coal export business will take the place of lost revenue for the mining industry and keep mining jobs intact.

And what are the opponents primary complaints?

Local citizens and environmental groups said this project would pollute the area’s air and water with coal dust, contribute to global warming and ruin an industrial site that could be used for cleaner energy development.

The other issue they bring up is the airborne mercury, which has been known to migrate from coal-burning facilities in China to the Northwest, so it could have environmental impacts on multiple levels.