Oregon allows Wyoming, Montana to participate in terminal appeal

Wyoming and Montana, two major coal states, will be allowed to participate in an appeal of Oregon’s permit denial for a Columbia River coal export terminal.

The permit, which Oregon’s Department of State Lands rejected in August, is a key barrier for a project proposing to connect large coal deposits in Wyoming and Montana’s Powder River Basin with potential buyers in South Korea and other Asian countries.

Oregon officials concluded the terminal would irreversibly harm nearby tribal fisheries at the Port of Morrow in Boardman. The applicant, Australia-based Ambre Energy, is appealing the decision and an administrative hearing is scheduled for December 2015.

Oregon will allow the two states to cross-examine witnesses and participate in the discovery of evidence, but only related to Oregon’s conclusions about the project’s social and economic benefits.

Wyoming and Montana’s interest in the project’s legal minutiae shows just how financially important reaching the international coal market is for their coal production and mining workforce. And it lays bare the conflict between those conservative coal-dependent states and the more liberal West Coast states that stand in the way of reaching international markets.

Environmentalists, lobbying against coal exports, have dubbed West Coast states “The Thin Green Line,” the area of resistance between fossil fuel-rich states like Wyoming and fossil fuel-hungry nations in Asia.

The appeal comes as Ambre Energy withdraws from the North American coal market, a victim of a sharp decline in international coal prices.

Ambre is selling its interests in two Oregon and Washington export projects to a U.S.-based private equity company, Resource Capital Funds of Denver, Colo. Ambre’s board has approved the $18 million deal, most of which will pay off debt, and company shareholders are expected to follow suit this month.

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