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Judge Upholds Permit Denial For Columbia River Coal Terminal

An Oregon judge Friday upheld the state's denial of a permit needed by a coal export proposal on the Columbia River.

Back in 2014, the Oregon Department of State lands denied a permit for the Morrow Pacific project to construct a dock in Boardman, Oregon, a component of the project's plan to ship coal from the Powder River Basin in Wyoming and Montana down the Columbia River and eventually overseas to Asia.

The decision is the latest blow to proposals for coal export projects in the Northwest, all of which have struggled with opposition, permit denials and a declining market for the product.

Six years after the first of six coal export projects was proposed, none have been approved.

Plans for a coal terminal at the Port of Morrow, initially backed by Australian-based Ambre Energy, called for shipping up to 8 million metric tons of coal per year through the Northwest to likely buyers in Japan, South Korea or Taiwan. The project has since changed ownership to Lighthouse Resources Inc.

The terminal's permit rejection in 2014 came after a fight between the project developer and Columbia River tribes over fishing at the dock site. Impacts to tribal fishing was one of the chief reasons the Department of State Lands cited for the permit denial. Appeals soon followed.

The project owners and the Port of Morrow jointly argued against the Department of State Lands decision on several fronts, including that the scope of the agency's decision was too broad and that it erred in its consideration of fishing impacts and its rejection of the terminal's mitigation plan.

Wyoming and Montana, both top coal producing states and the sources of coal for the export terminal, also filed motions claiming the state's decision violated federal commerce law.

All of those motions were denied.

The ruling was cheered by environmental groups opposing the terminal. The Columbia Riverkeeper, Friends of the Columbia Gorge and Sierra Club filed motions arguing in favor of the permit denial.

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Yakama Nation fishers and tribal leaders hopped on boats to the fishing site. As a protest, they dropped a net right next to the proposed Morrow Pacific coal export facility.
Courtney Flatt /
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Yakama Nation fishers and tribal leaders hopped on boats to the fishing site. As a protest, they dropped a net right next to the proposed Morrow Pacific coal export facility.

Tony Schick