Joining Ambre Energy in its appeal against a ruling made by Oregon’s Department of State Lands last month is the state of Wyoming and Port of Morrow in Boardman, Ore. Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead said Oregon’s decision to block the coal terminal violates the Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution. Wyoming has been pressing for access to ports to export coal to Asia, but has run into opposition in the Pacific Northwest.
“The permitting process for a rail-to-barge facility should be project-specific and not influenced by the commodities involved,” Ambre CEO Everett King said in a statement released Monday. “It’s pretty clear the politics of coal overshadowed this process from the beginning.”
In August, the state lands office denied a fill/removal permit for Ambre’s proposed Morrow Pacific coal export terminal project. The permit is needed to build a dock at the Port of Morrow to transfer 9 million tons of coal annually from rail cars to barges. The barges would then take the coal down the Columbia River to Port Westward in Clatskanie, where it would be transferred to ocean-going vessels headed to markets in Asia. DSL said it denied the permit because the dock was not consistent with the protection, conservation and best use of the state’s water resources. It also said Ambre did not adequately analyze alternatives to building a new dock or the impacts that would have on tribal fisheries.
In its appeal, Ambre said the ruling was not only biased but also beyond the state office’s authority.
Ambre said shipping coal as a bulk commodity “is a process that the State of Oregon does not support politically.” Instead of fairly evaluating the application, Ambre said DSL chose to base its decision on factors that exceed the scope of the review the department has previously used. Ambre said the department put special interests above longstanding, statutorily preferred port industrial uses.
“In doing so, DSL exceeded its lawful authority while ignoring its legal obligations. The decision must be reversed,” Ambre said in its appeal.
Wyoming also claimed in its appeal that the Department of State Lands denied the permit because Oregon officials dislike coal.
“Not only does this permit denial create a road block for the well-designed Morrow Pacific project – it sets new regulatory precedent that has the risk of shutting down future development opportunities at the Port of Morrow,” Port of Morrow General Manager Gary Neal said in a statement.
Port of Morrow officials said DSL’s actions put the port’s ability to develop its lands without undue interference from state agencies at significant risk. The Port of Morrow has invested more than $50 million in development of infrastructure to support the Port of Morrow East Beach Industrial Park, which is slated to include five docks – including Ambre’s proposed dock – to support the port’s economic development plans.
Ambre said the dock is planned for an area specifically set aside by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for port industrial development, and will not interfere with fishing.
Environmental watchdog Columbia Riverkeeper has been highly vocal in its opposition to the Morrow Pacific Project, as well as other proposed coal export terminals on the Columbia River.
“The state of Oregon and the people of Oregon overwhelmingly rejected coal export because we are choosing a better future,” Riverkeeper’s Brett VandenHeuvel said Monday.
VandenHeuvel called Ambre’s appeal a last-minute, desperate attempt to “keep hanging on.”
Following the notice of appeal, DSL has 30 days to send the notice to an administrative law judge. Under the rule, the judge must assign a hearing date within 30 days of receiving the notice.