The battle over plans for a series of massive coal export terminals across the Pacific Northwest took a new turn Wednesday when the energy company Kinder Morgan announced it was dropping its plan to build a $200 million facility on the Columbia River in northern Oregon.
Company officials said the site at the Port Westward industrial park near Clatskanie, Ore., could not be configured optimally to serve as a site for export of up to 30 million tons of coal a year, most presumably destined for markets in Asia.
That means three of the original six proposed coal export terminals that have locked Oregon and Washington in controversy are now either shelved or off the table. Developers still are exploring or seeking permits for terminals in Boardman, Ore., in Longview, Wash., and at Cherry Point near Bellingham.
Thousands of citizens have signed petitions and turned out for hearings to block the plans, which would involve shipping coal from the Powder River Basin in Wyoming and Montana on long trains to the coast.
Opponents fear the toxic effects of coal dust blowing off the trains. They have also raised concerns about long traffic tie-ups in towns along the Columbia River Gorge and up and down the Pacific Coast as trains, many as long as a mile in length, rumble through towns.
Trade unions and business development groups have argued in favor of the export terminals, arguing that they would allow the U.S. to step up its exports to China and boost jobs along the Northwest coast.
Kinder Morgan spokesman Allen Fore said an 18-month review of the logistics of the Port Westward site concluded that it would not accommodate the envisioned project.
Opponents said the announcement at Wednesday’s Port of St. Helens board of commissioners meeting, which administers the Port Westward site, came just two days after the public voiced overwhelming opposition to the plan at a Columbia County planning commission meeting.
“If that site didn’t meet their physical constraints, they would have known that years ago when they proposed this,” said Brett VandenHeuvel, director of Columbia Riverkeeper. “What’s new here is the overwhelming public opposition.”