Quiet Plan to Export U.S. Coal from West Coast

Public descends on meeting to expose and oppose

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The coal mining industry is developing plans to send massive amounts of U.S. coal to China. The move comes as coal companies see little room for growth domestically as concerns grow over climate impacts and local pollution.

The Australian mining giant Ambre Energy asked a Cowlitz County (WA) commission last night to approve a port project that would allow for the export of 5 million tons of coal annually, mostly to Asia.

Ambre Energy has plans to buy a mine and begin the export of coal from the Powder River Basin of Wyoming and Montana.

Those opposed to Ambre Energy’s plan view the project as a beachhead in a larger campaign that would build coal export facilities at numerous sites along the Columbia river and eventually other ports along the West Coast of the United States. At the Tuesday hearing in Cowlitz County, the vast majority of people testifying opposed the project.

Brett VanderHeuvel, Executive Director of Columbia Riverkeepers, believes that this situation requires state, rather than local officials, to make the call.

"The State of Washington can and should weigh in on this," VanderHeuvel explained. "We shouldn’t leave this decision to local commissioners who are deciding whether to issue a shoreline permit or not. There are huge, regional and even national implications to exporting coal."

"Washington has a choice," said Jan Hasselman, an attorney in Earthjustice’s Northwest office, in an interview with KING5-TV. "We can either be leaders in a clean energy future and economy, or we can be the export hub for the western United States for dirty coal to China."

Like several states, Washington state has adopted strong laws intended to limit the risk of climate instability and build a strong regional alternative energy economy. Washington’s Governor, Christine Gregoire, has previously been considered a leader on climate issues, but the export plan threatens that role.

Earthjustice will keep you up to date as this situation develops.

An Earthjustice staff member from 1999 until 2015, Brian used outreach and partnership skills to cover many issues, including advocacy campaign efforts to promote a healthy ocean.