Opponents Fighting Coal Export Plan Port By Port

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Opponents of a plan to ship vast amounts of coal from mines on the Montana-Wyoming border to as-yet-unbuilt ports in Washington and Oregon hailed recent decisions by investors to dump three of six proposed export terminals, but are still fighting the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers after the agency let it be known that it would not undertake a “mine to port” review of the remaining projects.

According to watchdogs like the Lake Pend Oreille Waterkeeper in North Idaho that the Corps has ignored “thousands upon thousands of requests” to factor impacts like coal dust, diesel emissions and potential derailments to communities along the route—including in Bonner County—when considering approval of the necessary environmental review.

Inclusion in a plan-wide Environmental Impact Statement has long been the demand of groups including Waterkeepers in Idaho, Eastern Washington and along the Columbia River—as well as national groups like the Sierra Club—but federal regulators have instead opted to concentrate on approval of the port projects on a case-by-case basis, focusing environmental assessment only on the communities in which they would be built.

That doesn’t sit well with the Pend Oreille Waterkeeper group, which issued a call to action in North Idaho on July 1.

“You may be thinking, ‘What's the use in continuing to share my personal concerns about coal transport through Bonner County when the Corps doesn't plan on listening anyway?’” wrote Pend Oreille Waterkeeper Shannon Williamson in an emailed action alert. “That's a really good question. The only way we are going to minimize the impact to North Idaho from coal transport is to shut down each proposal one by one.”

Specifically, the group is calling on Idahoans to submit written comments to the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality as it weighs air and water quality permits for Ambre Energy’s Coyote Island Terminal project at the Port of Morrow in Boardman, Ore.

The proposed port on the Columbia River would include a new dock capable of loading 8.8 million tons of coal per year—which would be shipped there in uncovered rail cars—for a 219-mile journey down the river for transfer to ocean-going ships, most bound for China, India and other coal-hungry Asian markets.

Meanwhile, according to The New York Times, Native American tribes along the proposed route are "quietly lobbying" against the plan, while the Sierra Club and other environmental groups filed suit against the Burlington Northern Santa Fe railway in early June, alleging that coal dust escaping from uncovered train cars has already damaged waterways in Washington state.

According to the Pend Oreille Waterkeeper: “The state of Oregon can protect our water and our lungs by denying pollution permits for Big Coal. Oregon has broad authority to review the full impacts of dirty coal on the entire Columbia River, not just draw a box around the terminal site. Lake Pend Oreille drains into the Pend Oreille River, which feeds into the Colombia [sic] River—we are all connected.”