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Sierra Daily

Feb 16, 2011

Coal Coverup on the Columbia


Coal from giant coal buckets like this at Wyoming's Black Thunder Mine could soon be on its way to China. Photo by Melissa Farlow

Just up on Sierra's Web site is Peter Frick-Wright's "Digging a Hole for China," an examination of the audacious plan to export coal from Wyoming's Powder River Basin halfway around the world to feed new power plants in China. Obviously that's one hell of a supply chain. It looks something like this:

Map by Michael Newhouse

The weak link is at Longview, Washington, where a company called Millenium Bulk Logistics (now Millenium Bulk Terminals), a spinoff of Australian corporate giant Ambre Energy, wants to build a shipping terminal. That required a public hearing before the Cowlitz County Commission. Here's how the meeting went down:

First, the three commissioners vote on whether the time has come to put the county's beloved Chevy Lumina up for auction after 30 years of service. They agree it has. Then Tom McGuire, the county planner who reviewed Ambre's application, gives a short slide show on the proposal, outlines the creosote pillars to be replaced with concrete, the rail crossings, the greenhouse gases, and the coal dust, from both trains and the storage pile. When he's done, he takes a long breath. "Staff recommends approval," he says.

Pretty pro forma, huh? But wait: Newly revealed secret company documents show that Ambre Energy and Millenium were duping the commissioners and the public. In its original application to export 5 million tons of coal a year, the county asked Millenium "Do you have any plans for future additions, expansion, or further activities related to or connected to this proposal?" The company responded, "There are no other current plans by Millennium associated with the existing multi-modal bulk materials handling facility."

 Unfortunately for Millenium, documents obtained as part of a lawsuit by environmentalists (including the Sierra Club) show that the company concealed plans to later expand the facility to ship up to 60 million tons a year. Jeff Torkington, Millenium's CEO until last October, wrote to his board that

. . .Millennium should deliberately wait at least two months before proposing an expansion. Otherwise, he wrote, “Millennium will be perceived as having deceived the agencies” and the company’s “good reputation would be lost overnight.”

Whoops! As an Ambre official stated in an email,

"We are [at] too sensitive a juncture to raise the plans to build a second berth.  The community is small and the risk to the current permit path is too large."

Much more from Columbia Riverkeeper here

--Paul Rauber  

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