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July 15, 2013

Anti-Coal Hearings Fuel Concerns for Oregon’s Future


Oregon Department of Environmental Quality takes comments about coal export proposal: Anti-coal activists take concerns directly to Gov. Kitzhaber in "people's hearing"

By Annie Szotkowski, Sierra Club Media Intern

Six coal terminals have been proposed by coal companies in Oregon and Washington. Three have already been shelved by public outcry. On Tuesday, July 9, the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) hosted twelve-hour hearings at the Portland Convention Center and in Hermiston, Oregon, on a draft air permit for the controversial and unstudied coal export terminal proposal at the Port of Morrow near Boardman, Ore.

The DEQ set stringent rules around the public testimony, restricting comments to two minutes, and heavily enforcing people to register before entering the hearing room even if they were not planning to speak. Frustrated by the DEQ's persistence in claiming "limited authority" to study real threats posed by the coal facility, local residents took their concerns to a "people's hearing" on Tuesday evening.

The vibrant "people's hearing" that formed outside the convention center was a host of over 500 residents wearing red shirts who voiced concerns over detriments in the DEQ permitting of the Morrow coal export facility. If developed, the project at the Port of Morrow will have negative public health, environmental, and economic consequences, not to mention a potential sledgehammer to the natural beauty of Oregon.


Supporters of the Sierra Club, Friends of the Columbia Gorge, Columbia Riverkeeper, 350.org, and other environmental advocates watched the event's surprise flash mob opening. Sam Lockhart, Friends of the Columbia Gorge's Conservation Organizer, made the welcoming address. People young and old, including a neuroscientist, a Vietnam War veteran, students, nurses, and ministers, lined up to voice their concerns about the Morrow Pacific Coal export terminal's potential damage to the future of Oregon's clean air and water.


Vern Groves, a minister at United Methodist Church, has been an Oregon resident for 81 years. The DEQ, he said, "has a moral and ethical decision to make."

The Morrow Pacific Project, also known as Coyote Island Terminal, needs three permits from Oregon's DEQ before the coal export facility can be approved. The first draft was approved in May, giving Australian Ambre Energy, who sees coal export from the Pacific Northwest as its last savior from shaky financial woes, an open door to build an export terminal at the Port of Morrow on the Columbia River to ship coal to Asia from the Powder River Basin in Montana and Wyoming.

These permits would regulate some of the construction and operations at the terminal, including:

" Air quality impacts from the coal storage buildings, loaded railcars inside the terminal, the unloading station, transfer stations and a barge-loading chute.

" Water quality, which would be affected by wastewater that comes from dust suppression systems at the terminal.

" Storm water that would flow from the construction site into surface waters. That would include runoff resulting from excavation and the stockpiling and movement of building materials and equipment.

The permits haven't only been flagged by their environmental implications, but also their threat to public health. Local residents pointed to the damage already done to the Columbia River, gardens, and plants by coal dust. Healthcare professionals highlighted the risks coal dust poses for pulmonary lung disease, asthma, and other chronic diseases.


Despite its many threats, the Morrow Project is the only coal export proposal in the region not subjected to an Environmental Impact Statement process by the Army Corps of Engineers (ACOE). At the very least, all state agencies should deny any permit requests for a coal export terminal proposal until these important impacts can be studied by the ACOE, including the Port of Morrow.

There's no doubt about it, this dangerous coal export proposal not only threatens Oregonians' way of life, but it puts all of us at risk by exacerbating the climate crisis. The stance against coal in Portland and Hermiston was demonstrated loud and clear on Tuesday, and fortunately Oregonians seem ready to take this fight to the finish.


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