Gov. John Kitzhaber has taken his strongest stand against a proposed coal export terminal proposed at the Port of Morrow in Boardman, saying it should be rejected and setting a May 31 deadline for a state decision on the project.
“It is time to once and for all to say no to coal exports from the Pacific Northwest,” Kitzhaber said in an April 19 speech to the League of Conservation Voters. “It is time to say yes to national and state energy policies that will transform our economy and our communities into a future that can sustain the next generation.”
It’s the boldest statement Kitzhaber has made on Pacific Northwest coal exports, which he had previously questioned and said needed extensive review. Kitzhaber, a Democrat seeking re-election, has been under intense pressure from environmental supporters to oppose coal exports, having been targeted by a billboard campaign that urged: “Governor Kitzhaber: Oppose Coal Exports NOW.”
But while the governor had said exports concerned him, he hadn’t flatly rejected them.
Kitzhaber said Australia-based Ambre Energy had been given two years to show its proposed export facility would meet Oregon regulatory standards and hadn’t yet been able to demonstrate that it could.
“The time has come to call the question,” Kitzhaber said, according to a transcript. “The future for Oregon and the West Coast does not lie in 19th century energy sources.”
Ambre’s project could export 8.8 million tons annually. Trains would unload coal at Boardman and it would then move by barge down the Columbia River to Port Westward, near Clatskanie.
Ambre has been granted seven deadline extensions with the Oregon Department of State Lands, which must decide whether to grant a permit to allow the company’s construction in the Columbia River. In a March 31 letter, Ambre asked for an open-ended deadline. The state rejected the request, imposing a May 30 deadline instead.
“We’ve been asking for information for quite a while now,” said Julie Curtis, spokeswoman for the Department of State Lands. “We feel that they’re pretty clear on what we want. We feel they should be able to get us the information in a timely manner.”
An Ambre Energy spokeswoman said the company has provided everything the state has requested, but that some answers are contingent on ongoing federal permitting. The spokeswoman said Ambre would provide that information as soon as it was available.
“For the state to suggest that the project has been anything but responsive and diligent in providing information to the Department of State Lands is a gross mischaracterization of the facts in this case,” Ambre spokeswoman Liz Fuller said. “We respect differing views on coal exports, but urge regulators to be fair and factual in their decision-making.”
Kitzhaber said he was concerned about the project’s impacts on not only climate change, but on protected tribal fisheries and Columbia River fishing and recreation.
The governor said he would push for legislation in 2015 that would allow Oregon to undertake comprehensive reviews of major development proposals like coal export facilities, lauding Washington laws that allow a more detailed environmental impacts assessment than Oregon’s.