August 19, 2014
Years ago, the conventional wisdom was that going up against the coal industry was a losing proposition. After all, there was a reason the industry was called "King Coal." But after a decade in which more than 180 proposed coal plants were defeated or withdrawn -- and an additional 170 coal plants have been or will soon be retired -- dirty coal's size, power, and influence is rapidly diminishing. And this week's defeat of a proposed export terminal in Oregon will only accelerate that trend.
This is good news. When the Oregon Department of State Lands (DSL) rejected a permit for Ambre Energy to build a coal export terminal on the Columbia River at Boardman, Oregon, the winners weren't Ambre and its deep-pocketed financial backers. Victory went to the families, doctors, tribal nations, businesses, and local, county, and state-level leaders from across Oregon and the entire Pacific Northwest who have come together to form the nation's largest movement to stop coal exports.
But there's more work to be done. Even as global demand for coal falls and its financial picture continues to dim, coal export companies want to build two other export facilities in Washington State. Millions of tons of coal would travel by rail in open-top cars from the Powder River Basin in Wyoming and Montana to both terminals.
These mile-long trains would spew coal dust along rail lines, snarl traffic in communities along the route, and create lengthy delays for the passengers, goods, and services that rely on already-congested train lines. (Just this month, a transporter of refrigerated goods from Washington State to the rest of the country ended its express rail service, citing poor railway performance.) Once Powder River Basin coal reaches the export facilities, it would be shipped overseas to be burned, and return to our shores in the form of mercury contamination, air pollution, and acidifying oceans. In a relentless drive for profits, Big Coal is willing to risk the health and safety of individuals, families, and communities across the American West.
But the DSL's August 18 rejection of the permit for the Morrow Pacific project at Boardman makes it clear: coal exports are not in the best interest of the Pacific Northwest or anywhere else on our coasts.
The reason for the decision is clear -- there is no way to transport coal that will do no harm to communities and natural resources near the facility. Knowing of those impacts, a broad, deep coalition of Oregonians and other Northwesterners united in opposition to Ambre's project.
- Right now, members of the Lummi Nation are partnering with Christian faith leaders to travel across the West in a visual demonstration against coal exports and oil projects. A few months ago they joined with the Yakama Nation and other Columbia River Treaty Tribes to say no to the Ambre coal export facility.
- Over the past few months, more than 20,000 citizens contacted Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber requesting a denial of the permit.
- In May, 86 elected officials from Washington, Oregon, Montana, and Idaho urged Governor Kitzhaber and the DSL to protect frontline communities throughout the Northwest by rejecting a permit for the Morrow Pacific project.
- Close to 600 Northwest businesses and business leaders have also either expressed concern or outright opposition to coal exports.
- More than 3,000 medical professionals and public health advocates have requested a denial of the Morrow Pacific project permit, including 165 Oregon physicians who voiced their concerns directly to Governor Kitzhaber.
We're on a roll. From the Pacific Northwest to the Gulf of Mexico, communities are rolling up the welcome mat to coal exports. Just last week, hundreds of people showed up to a city council meeting in Gretna, Louisiana, asking them to reject coal exports in their community.
But the fight is far from over. The DSL's rejection of the Morrow Pacific permit is a major blow to Ambre, but the company will undoubtedly continue to search for new ways to try and push their dirty and troubled project forward.
We can't let up until we have stopped every single coal export facility. Big Coal's window of opportunity is closing. To date, the Sierra Club's Beyond Coal campaign and a broad coalition of organizations have retired one third of the nation's existing coal-fired power plants. But we have to keep fighting coal export terminals if we want to keep Powder River Basin coal in the ground. This week, it's worth pausing to celebrate how much we've accomplished against such powerful opponents. But our work is not nearly done, so let's keep organizing!