Exporting coal is a lucrative business, but not always a popular one. The on-again, off-again relationship with the idea to build a shipping terminal in Longview, Wash., to export coal to Asia is back on (and in a big way).
After quashing its own proposal last year to export five million tons of coal a year from a 400-acre brownfield terminal site that lies on the Columbia River near both Portland, Ore., and the Pacific Ocean, Millennium Bulk Terminals is back making waves in Longview with a new proposal for a terminal that includes an annual capacity of 44 million metric tons of coal export.
It isn’t just that environmentalists dislike the idea of ripping the coal out of Colorado, Montana and Wyoming and then sending it via train (will it be transported in uncovered cars?) to the proposed port in Longview for eventual burning in Asia (they greatly dislike every step of that process, mind you), it is that Millennium wasn’t exactly super forthcoming in its initial proposal, so a bit of ill-will has been built up in Longview.
While the original public proposal offered up a terminal with five million tons of coal exported annually, internal documents unearthed by environmental groups showed that Ambre Energy, Millennium’s Australian parent company, hoped to later expand the site to export 60 tons annually. The public relations incident (i.e. deception) led Millennium to back off its original plans. But with multiple West Coast coal port proposals still pushing ahead, Millennium wasted little time in getting back into the coal game.
With only two coal ports on the West Coast—a small option in Alaska and another mere miles north of Washington State in southern British Columbia—two other proposals have hit the review list. One, a $200 million proposal by Texas-based Kinder Morgan, calls for a terminal in the Port of St. Helens (Ore.), just 20 miles south of Longview and outside of Portland, that can export up to 38 tons of coal each year. The other proposal has Seattle’s SSA Marine offering a $665 million Gateway Pacific Terminal at Cherry Point near Bellingham, Wash., within sight of Canada. The Millennium proposal expects a $600 million project.
With two proposals in Washington and one in Oregon, nothing is a sure bet, especially with the often-subjective environmental review processes a key component of the permitting. The scope of those reviews hasn’t been fully determined and whether or not the respective departments of ecology take into account just the proposals of the actual port facilities or also the train transportation through cities and towns from the Rocky Mountain region to the West Coast or factors beyond remains to be seen.
In the meantime, expect years of back and forth bickering, as proponents of coal claim that jobs created will vastly improve life around these local ports (since Asia will get its coal however it can, Americans might as well capitalize on it, they say) and opponents can’t fathom why a country trying to clean its energy voluntarily and knowingly mining coal, transporting it across multiple states and then selling it off for burning. At this point, one thing is undoubtedly true: Asia will pay for the coal we have. Whether we sell it to them has years of review ahead.
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