With many older coal-fired power plants going offline in the United States and construction of new plants significantly slowed, Australian-based Ambre Energy has a new game plan: send U.S. coal to China.
The company has proposed building a shipping terminal in Longview, Wash., which would be the first West Coast port to transport coal, the largest source of carbon pollution, across the Pacific Ocean. The coal would be sourced from mines in Wyoming and Montana. In December 2010, Earthjustice and a coalition of allies filed an appeal to prevent construction of the terminal.
The project was granted a permit by southern Washington’s Cowlitz County in late 2010. In its permit application, Ambre Energy said it planned to ship about 6 million tons of coal annually from the proposed Longview terminal. But, court records reviewed by Earthjustice attorneys reveal that Ambre Energy plans to boost the annual shipping capacity of the terminal from about 6 million tons to a staggering 80 million tons.
In an internal e-mail, one of the company’s top executives outlined a plan to avoid mentioning the massive expansion until at least two months following operation of the proposed new facility, lest Ambre Energy “be perceived as having deceived the agencies” and have its “good reputation lost overnight.”
As China’s economy continues to modernize, interest is growing among the industry’s major players, such as Arch Coal and Peabody Energy, in shipping coal to the world’s most populated country. A similar coal export facility was proposed at the Port of Tacoma late last year, but port officials rejected the project. Talks are also underway about a possible coal export facility in Bellingham, Wash., near the Canadian border.
The appeal on the Longview terminal will be heard in April by the Washington State Shorelines Hearings Board. The coalition’s appeal claims that Cowlitz County officials sidestepped all scientific review and pushed through approval of a severely deficient permit. The groups seek to have the Shorelines Hearings Board invalidate the permit and require the county to complete the required analyses.