The Oregon Department of Environmental Quality says last night's meeting on permits for proposed Ambre coal shipping docks attracted an audience of 800, which is the largest ever attendance at a DEQ meeting. Opponents clearly outnumbered supporters of the coal-to-Asia shipping scheme, based mainly on objections to broadening usage of coal-fired power plants around the world that would inflict more climate damage. Outside the meeting place, opponents erected a Santa Claus and built a snowman, with signs objecting to coal in our stocking. The local paper, The Oregonian, gave considerable and favorable coverage to this hearing both yesterday and today, including an almost-accurate summary of complex air quality issues.
The Sierra Club and its attorney are key actors in the attack on the proposed air quality permits for the coal docks. Ambre proposes to bring in Powder River Basin coal, coated with a dust-reducing agent, from the Wyoming area on train, to Morrow on the Columbia River 200 miles east on Portland. There, the coal would be loaded into sealed barges, which would get towed 150 miles down the Columbia to Port Westward, where it would be re-loaded onto ocean-going freighters, and initially burnt in South Korean power plants.
Because Ambre will coat the coal for the train ride, ship the coal in sealed barges, and will do all of its coal transfers and loading and unloading indoors, there will in fact be few coal dust emissions, only a few hundred pounds a year.
But the Sierra Club hired wily scientists who calculated the diesel stack emissions from the train traffic to Morrow, the barge tug emissions while sailing down the Columbia, and the ship emissions to haul the coal from Port Westward out of Oregon waters. Those transportation-related emissions totaled several hundred tons a year, and the Sierra Club's math revealed that would create several "hot spots" of unhealthy concentrations of diesel-related emissions, near the coal transfer points.
The flabbergasted DEQ has objected that legally they are allowed to ignore pollution from "mobile" sources such as trucks, trains, and ships. But the Sierra Club's evidence that Ambre's mobile source emissions will cause violations of Oregon's legal standards for air pollution, at the least, puts DEQ on shaky ground.
Climate change and impacts from coal burning in Asia are well outside DEQ's authority to review.
I'm not the best person to write this diary. I only went to the meeting long enough to get a free coal company hat. I did consult a little with the Sierra Club scientists. I hate coal.
But I privately support this project, although doubts cloud my emotions. I certainly didn't speak in favor of the coal exports. But I have too many unemployed construction worker buddies right now to ignore the hundreds of union construction jobs required to build the terminals, and to fabricate the barges to carry the coal.
10:05 PM PT: This coal may come from the Decker Mine in Montana, subject of a bitter strike several years ago. The strike was memorialized in a Kos Diary on Feb. 26, 2006 by writerscramp, whose father was one of the strikers.