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EPA wants review of consequences of coal export through Northwest ports

Steel News - Published on Mon, 16 Apr 2012

The Environmental Protection Agency wants a thorough review of the consequences of coal export through Northwest ports, saying the first project in the pipeline at Oregon\'s Port of Morrow has the potential to significantly impact human health and the environment.

It\'s not a full victory for environmentalists and tribes near the Columbia River. EPA stopped short of recommending that the Army Corps of Engineers conduct a wholesale analysis of all six potential projects to export Montana and Wyoming coal to Asia through Oregon and Washington. But it gives environmental groups more ammunition in the high profile dispute, which could well end up in court.

The Corps, which must approve riverside work, is reviewing an application from an Ambre Energy North America subsidiary to build a coal trans loading dock at the Port of Morrow, along the Columbia near Boardman.

Coal trains would arrive at the port, then transfer their loads to barges, which would take them to another Ambre facility planned at the Port of St. Helens\' Port Westward industrial park. There the coal would be loaded onto ocean going vessels to China, India and other Asian countries.

EPA\'s letter to the Corps last week recommended a thorough and broadly scoped environmental review. Potential problems include health impacts from coal dust and diesel emissions on train and barge trips through the Columbia River Gorge and the effects of ozone, particulates and mercury returning on trade winds after coal is burned in Asia.

Ms Kate Kelly director of ecosystems, tribal and public affairs in EPA\'s Northwest region office said that \"We think this is a significant project, and we think the environmental analysis needs to be full blown.\"

The US West Coast has no coal export terminal now, but producers in the Powder River Basin are pushing hard to set them up as demand for coal rises in Asia and drops domestically. Kinder Morgan is planning a separate coal export facility at Port Westward. Other coal export plans are in the earliest stages in Coos Bay, Bellingham, Longview and Grays Harbor. Total capacity could reach 150 million tonnes a year.

Coal supporters say exports will boost the US economy and provide relatively cheap power in Asia, boosting living standards among poor populations.

Environmental groups are fighting the proposals at every step, in part because of coal burning\'s high emissions of greenhouse gases. They note that Oregon and Washington\'s only coal plants have agreed to shut down, and argue it makes no sense to cut coal burning domestically but ship it overseas.

Ms Kelly said EPA thinks the Corps should prepare a detailed environmental impact statement for the Port of Morrow project, not limit the review to a relatively simple environmental assessment.

But the agency is not recommending the Corps do an even more thorough programmatic review to assess the potential damage from all the Northwest coal proposals together, as advocated by environmental groups.

When asked if EPA might recommend a programmatic analysis in the future, Ms Kelly said \"We\'re not recommending one on this project.\"

Mr Michelle Helms, a spokeswoman for the Corps\' Portland District, said officials are consulting with the EPA and noted that the Corps is still gathering public comment on the Ambre proposal. He added that \"We\'re very early in this process. We\'ll evaluate all the comments and the issues they bring up.\"

Source - Associated Press

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Posted By : admin on Mon, 16 Apr 2012
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