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The Power Past Coal coalition, which includes over 110 conservation, health, faith and community groups and businesses, held a press conference today calling on Governor John Kitzhaber to use Oregon’s legal authority to help stop coal export projects. These export projects would transport millions of tons of coal a year through Oregon’s Columbia River Gorge and many local communities on to Asia. Coalition members held the conference as a billboard-sized banner suspended next to the Hawthorne Bridge by seven foot-diameter helium balloons called on Gov. Kitzhaber to “Save Us from Dirty Coal.” The sign, which was up in time for the morning commute, generated a steady stream of enthusiastic honks.
The groups say the federal government’s recent decision not to prepare an in-depth review of Ambre Energy’s proposed coal export project in Oregon makes it critical that the governor direct state agencies to use their legal authority to deny the project. While the governor has expressed skepticism about coal export projects, state agencies such as Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) and the Department of State Lands (DSL) are not using all available legal tools to protect Oregonians from the serious health and climate impacts from Ambre Energy’s proposed project.
“The governor has both the power and the moral responsibility to protect Oregonians from the incredible impacts we would face from exporting coal through our communities,” said Reverend Kate Lore with the First Unitarian Church in Portland. DEQ, for example, has not said it will require Ambre Energy’s project on the Columbia River to meet Oregon’s water quality standards under the “State Certification” process. DEQ has also not said whether it will require state pollution permits for coal trains that we now know discharge coal from open cars into the creeks and rivers they cross. DEQ’s first chance to deny Ambre Energy’s coal export loading facility is on November 1st when it is due to make a decision on Ambre’s air quality permit.
Cesia Kearns, co-director of the Power Past Coal coalition and also with Sierra Club agreed. “We need Oregon’s state agencies to get off the sidelines on this issue and for the Governor to take a firm stand to protect Oregon’s air, water, communities, and climate.”
“The Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area is threatened by proposals to double U.S. coal exports by transporting coal through this national scenic treasure,” said Michael Lang, conservation director of Friends of the Columbia Gorge. “Oregonians oppose coal exports through the Columbia Gorge and we are calling on the Governor to join us and do everything in his power to stop the Gorge from becoming the nation’s coal chute to Asia.”
“It’s now clear that we cannot expect the federal government to the do the right thing for Oregon when it comes to coal exports,” said Dr. Martin Donohoe of Oregon Physicians for Social Responsibility. "We ask the Governor to direct Oregon state agencies to use all tools in the toolbox. They must take action to protect Oregonians and our kids from significant health risks associated with the export and burning of coal."
Brett VandenHeuvel with Columbia Riverkeeper agreed, “DEQ has the legal right to insist that Ambre Energy’s coal export projects meet Oregon’s water quality standards instead of just leaving the decision up to the Army Corps of Engineers. It’s tough to understand why DEQ does not immediately use this authority. It’s time for Oregon to stand up to dirty coal.”
"Gov. Kitzhaber has the power to stop these dirty coal export projects that would turn Oregon into the nation's largest exporter of climate-polluting coal to Asia,” adds Corinne Ball with Climate Parents, a national organization mobilizing families to act for climate solutions.
At the same time that Gov. Kitzhaber and Oregon agencies are considering issuing permits to Ambre Energy, the WA Dept. of Ecology, Cowlitz County and the Army Corps of Engineers are holding public hearings regarding an in-depth environmental impact study related to the Longview, WA coal export terminal. The next public hearing will be in Vancouver, WA next Wednesday October 9th. The federal government, however, recently said it would not prepare any similarly rigorous study for Oregon.
To date more than 160 elected officials, including Senator Merkley, close to 600 health professionals, over 400 local businesses, 220 faith leaders, close to 30 municipalities and some Northwest Tribes have either voiced concern or come out against coal export from the West Coast. A recent poll by Fairbank, Maslin, Maullin, Metz & Associates (FM3) showed a growing opposition to the proposed coal export terminals with a majority of likely voters in both Washington (51%) and Oregon (54%) now opposing plans to export coal from Northwest ports.