(Casper Star Tribune, August 21) – Oregon state regulators knuckled under to intense political pressure earlier this week, denying a key permit to Ambre Energy for a coal terminal, a facility that would’ve injected new life into the area’s economy.
The Oregon Department of State Lands’ wrongheaded decision came after they received more than 20,000 public comments, months of scrutiny into Ambre’s plan and a expensive, coordinated opposition from local and national environmental groups. Ostensibly, the regulators nixed the facility’s permit to save a small local fishery, arguing Ambre’s plan to mitigate any risks to the fishery weren’t adequate.
Regulators went wrong when they denied the facility’s permit. We strongly encourage Ambre Energy to pursue its next move, whether in court or elsewhere, with all due speed. And we urge Oregon regulators to take a step back, consider the value of this and other planned export terminals to their state’s economy, and strike a balance that is best for their state.
The Ambre facility would’ve been a key transshipment point for coal from the Powder River Basin and a critical part of Wyoming’s plans to expand the market for its product. As the U.S. power generation fleet has shifted away from coal in recent years, coal companies, wisely, have looked for other buyers. Those buyers exist in Asia, a huge consumer of coal used in power plants fueling its economy. A string of proposed coal export terminals are critical gateways to get Powder River Basin coal to Asia.
The terminals are welcome among some, particularly those sensitive to Oregon and Washington’s unemployment situation. In Ambre’s case, both Oregon’s Morrow County, which would house the rejected transshipment facility, and Washington’s Columbia County, which would house the final export point, suffer from unemployment rates above the national average.
But environmentalists have other concerns. It’s fair to say that after the Keystone XL pipeline, West Coast coal shipping terminal plans are a top battle front for environmental groups. They operate under the assumption that if the ports are blocked, they’ll have won a victory for the environment. Of course, such a belief is hollow considering coal exports would simply fuel power plants in Asia that will simply get their coal elsewhere. By blocking exports, environmentalists aren’t saving the climate, they’re just hindering local economies in Washington and Oregon and injuring an industry that employs thousands of workers in Wyoming and elsewhere.
We’re confident Oregon regulators, and those elsewhere, can find a balance that will satisfy local environmental concerns, diversify some local economies, open a floodgate of new tax dollars, offer construction and operation jobs and provide an outlet for Powder River Basin coal.
We urge them to take hold of the opportunity.