Oregon Agency Denies Crucial Port of Morrow Permit,
Deals Significant Blow to Coal Export Proposals
BILLINGS, Mont. — Oregon’s Department of State Lands today denied a crucial
removal-fill permit for a proposed coal terminal at the Port of Morrow in Oregon. The state agency posted the denial in a fact sheet posed online.
The denial is a devastating blow to the facility, which, if permitted, would
export 8.8 million tons of coal per year from the Powder River Basin in
Wyoming and southeastern Montana to Asian markets. Coal export critics from mining, rail, and port-impacted communities celebrated.
“Governor Kitzhaber and his Department of State Lands stood up for dozens of communities along the railroad tracks from Wyoming to Oregon today,” said Billings pulmonologist Dr. Robert Merchant. “Shipping export-bound coal through towns like mine has significant health impacts ranging from increased problems with asthma and COPD to increased heart attacks and strokes.”
The negative health impacts caused by diesel fumes and coal dust from coal trains, as well as global mercury and carbon pollution from Asian coal combustion were major concerns for many critics. Another concern at least partially alleviated by the permit denial deals with rail congestion.
“Port of Morrow would have directly hurt Montana’s number one industry: agriculture. As a grower of wheat, barley, and pulse crops, I’ve seen firsthand how coal export leads to rail congestion and prevents Montana grain from getting to market efficiently and timely,” said farmer and Northern Plains Resource Council member Arlo Skari, who farms outside of Chester, Montana. “Port of Morrow would have further restricted our ability to sell our product. The project’s permit denial is a win for farmers and for landowners’ property rights who live along the railroad tracks across the region.”
Increased traffic from coal and oil trains has caused significant service delays for rail shippers. Lack of rail services caused by fossil fuel traffic recently caused the closure of an agricultural shipping business in Central Washington serving markets in the Midwest. In Montana a rural grain elevator has been threatened with loss of service, and in North Dakota farmers posted over $66 million in lost revenues due to shipping delays, according to a May 2014 North Dakota State University study.
“Hats off to Governor Kitzhaber for considering all the consequences of shipping our coal to Asia,” said Montana State Representative Tom Steenberg. “These include the negative effects of global warming as well as increased health care costs, especially for those of us with respiratory problems. What used to be promoted as ‘energy independence’ for all of us now just boils down to providing cheap power to Asia at our expense. Doesn’t look like a good deal to me.”
There are two other proposed coal export facilities in the Pacific Northwest, at Longview and Cherry Point in Washington state. Both face heavy community opposition.