Two proposed coal-export projects in Columbia County are among a half-dozen projects throughout the Pacific Northwest that garnered the attention of famed environmental attorney Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., Gov. John Kitzhaber and the Environment Protection Agency.

Speaking at an anti-coal rally in downtown Portland on May 7, Kennedy said, “Anybody who touches coal gets poisoned by it. You don’t just get sick. It poisons democracy, it poisons communities, it poisons values.”

Kennedy, who is president of the environmental advocacy group Waterkeeper Alliance, said allowing coal-export projects into Oregon would lead to political corruption and environmental damage while creating only a minimal number of jobs.

About 300 people gathered at Pioneer Courthouse Square for the rally. Kennedy is in Portland for the Waterkeeper Alliance national convention. Waterkeeper is the umbrella corporation for nearly 200 environmental groups operating worldwide, including Columbia Riverkeeper, which has voiced strong opposition of both the Kinder Morgan and Ambre Energy projects proposed for Port Westward in Clatskanie.

“Coal doesn’t share its wealth. It keeps it for itself, and it makes a few people billionaires by impoverishing everyone else. Coal is crime. Do not let it come through this community,” Kennedy told the audience.

But Kennedy isn’t the only one taking a close look at the proposals to bring coal into northwest Oregon by rail and river. On April 25, Kitzhaber called on federal agencies to conduct a comprehensive analysis of the environmental, community, economic, transportation and energy security impacts of proposed coal exports to Asia.

In a letter to Department of the Interior, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Bureau of Land Management, Kitzhaber called on the federal government to perform a programmatic and comprehensive environmental impact statement.

“Currently, the United States annually exports 80 to 100 million tons of coal from all ports in the United States. The current proposals for coal export facilities in Oregon and Washington could result in an additional 157 million tons of coal exports,” said Kitzhaber.

Kitzhaber also said Oregon would shoulder most of the environmental, community, economic, transportation and energy security impacts associated with the increase in coal export.

Oregon’s governor also noted a previous request for a supplemental environmental impact statement on the ongoing coal leasing and development activities on BLM land in Montana and Wyoming, where the coal coming into Oregon originates from, was denied.

Kitzhaber said the request was denied on the grounds that “the proposals for coal export through the West Coast were too indefinite at that time. That lack of certainty has now changed, with several specific proposals now pending regulatory reviews, and others having secured initial property agreements.”

Kitzhaber’s concerns about the environmental impacts the two projects could have was echoed by the Environmental Protection Agency recently as well. After reviewing Ambre Energy’s proposal, the EPA tasked the Army Corps of Engineers with a thorough review of potential impacts of exporting large amounts of coal from Wyoming and Montana to Asia citing concerns about potential affects from diesel pollution and coal dust.

One of the two proposals for the Port of St. Helens’ Clatskanie property has already hit a snag. In mid-April Portland General Electric, which has leasehold control and right of review of 850 acres at the Port Westward industrial park along the Columbia River, rejected an initial proposal from Kinder Morgan for a rail-based export terminal.

“Under the terms of our lease at Port Westward, we have the right to review proposals for use of the property within our lease and evaluate them for potential impact on our facilities,” said PGE spokesman Steve Corson. “That is what we did, with respect to the Kinder Morgan proposal. From our standpoint, our engineers feel that proposal is not compatible with our existing plant, that there would be an impact on our operations primarily from coal dust.”

Corson said PGE has yet to review the coat-export terminal project proposed by Ambre Energy but would likely do so sometime in the future.

Port of St. Helens Executive Director Patrick Trapp says PGE’s position doesn’t spell the end for the Kinder Morgan project though.

“It’s one of a couple of options that are out there. Now you move to option B or option C or option D and the different configurations that can fit down there,” said Trap.

As for the both Kitzhaber and the EPA’s request for additional studies into the environmental impacts of the projects, Trapp the port is just looking for consistency from the government.

“If any commodity that deals with that footprint is what they’re concerned with, whether its transporting by rail or truck, that there’s a consistent process to the permitting,’ Trapp said. “We would like people aren’t changing the rules of the game mid way to facilitate one commodity.”

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