Sara Bernard of Seattle Weekly
chronicles the dire straits of proposals to export coal to Asia from terminals throughout Washington and Oregon - up to 100 million tons of Powder River Basin coal annually, all of it shipped by rail through the Columbia Gorge. Prospects were once rosy for the proposals' backers:
A few years ago, things looked very different in Washington and Oregon. There were six coal-export facility proposals dotted along the Pacific coast and the Columbia River, from Coos Bay to Hoquiam to Bellingham, backed by some of the biggest players in the North American coal industry. Coal executives and their lenders had bold plans to keep culling profits from the black gold being dug out of the flatlands of southern Montana and Wyoming’s Powder Basin. The word in industry boardrooms was that, no matter what the long-term U.S. market for coal-burning looked like (not great, thanks to EPA regulations and cheap natural gas), there’d still be demand for it in Asia. Coal prices were peaking there; hence the interest in the Pacific Northwest’s many ports. At least six different proposals – with at least as many companies and even more investors – had their fingers in six different pies. Prospects looked good.
Then, one by one, they all fell away. Financial troubles. Native treaty rights. Permitting snafus. Today, the last man standing is Millennium Bulk Terminals in Longview, still mired in the state’s pricey and painstaking legal processes – and a hell of a lot of local opposition. There were more than 217,000 comments on the scoping process for the project’s Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), completed back in 2013, and many commenters demanded that global climate change be considered in the environmental review.
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