The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is opting for a less exhaustive — and less time consuming — environmental review for a coal export proposal than what opponents have been seeking.
The federal agency announced it is moving ahead with an environmental assessment, or EA, on the Morrow Pacific project. It applied last spring for permits to develop coal export facilities. Coal from the Wyoming-Montana Powder River Basin would be shipped by train to Boardman in Eastern Oregon. From there, it would be loaded on barges at the Port of Morrow and transported 200 miles down the Columbia River to the Port of St. Helens near Clatskanie, Ore., where ocean-going ships would be loaded with coal for transport to Asia.
Opponents, including the environmental group, Power Past Coal, have been pushing the Army Corps to conduct a more thorough review, known as an environmental impact statement, or EIS.
When federal agencies fund or issue permits for projects, they are required to consider the impact on people and the environment. The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) requires the agencies to do this by conducting either an EA or an EIS, which must be shared with the public. Depending on the project, agencies sometimes begin with the Environmental Assessment but based on those finding conduct the more indepth Environmental Impact Statement.
The top executive behind the project expressed support for the Corps’ decision.
“Our Environmental Review, which is published on our website, represents a thorough and transparent evaluation of the project,” said Clark Moseley, President and CEO of the Morrow Pacific project, according to a press release.
The press release also said the Corps’ decision is in keeping with the process used to evaluate a grain terminal across the river in Longview, Wash.
Brett VandenHeuvel, the head of the environmental group, Columbia Riverkeeper, said the Army Corp was making a mistake by using the same approach to the coal export plan as it would if the supporters were proposing to export an agricultural commodity.
“Anyone can take a look at a pile of coal vs. a pile of wheat and immediately know that one of these things is not like the other,” he said in a prepared statement. “Coal is a dirty and dangerous combustible fuel that would travel in open rail cars through our communities, and on barges and massive cargo ships.”
Bonnie Stewart contributed to this report.
(Hover over markers to hear reports on coal in communities of the Northwest. Then click “website” for more EarthFix coverage. Click here for larger map view. Note: Train routes are approximations. They illustrate potential corridors based on existing lines and publicly available information.)
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