Pacific Northwest Coal Exports

About the Issue:

Across the country, coal plants are shutting down. Citizens and local governments are rallying against dirty energy - and it's working. While this means we can all breathe a little easier, it's left coal company CEOs scrambling to find a fire exit and new markets to sell their rocks.

Big Coal's next major target is the Pacific Northwest. There are only two coal plants left in the region and both are scheduled to shut down. The Pacific Northwest could be the first coal-free region in the country. That is, unless the coal industry has anything to say about it.

Multi-billion dollar coal companies like Ambre Energy and Kinder Morgan are proposing new coal export terminals in Oregon and Washington to ship millions of tons of coal to Asia.

The coal will be mined in a place called the Power River Basin, which runs through the wilderness of Wyoming and Montana. This area holds one of the largest coal reserves in the world.

Then, mile-long trains will cart the coal through the pristine Columbia River Gorge, and ship it in massive vessels to fuel coal-fired power plants in China, India, and elsewhere. 

Environmental Impacts:

Coal exports out of the Pacific Northwest could pose a bigger climate threat than the Keystone XL pipeline. Coal companies are scheming to export over 150 million tons of coal through the region. If we’re serious about stopping climate change, we cannot allow these projects to go through.

Aside from the climate pollution that will result from burning this coal, the shipping process will also negatively impact local ecosystems. Migrating salmon populations will now have to compete with large barges that will carry the coal down waterways to the massive tanker ships.

Public Health Impacts:

Communities in Oregon and and Washington (and communities throughout the world) will face serious public health impacts if we allow export proposals to go through. Coal will be strip-mined in the wilderness of Wyoming and Montana, carted in mile-long trains or barges through the pristine Columbia River gorge, loaded onto massive ships, and fed to power plants throughout Asia, many without modern pollution controls.

The Pacific Northwest is a uniquely beautiful and diverse place – and part of our national heritage. From coal dust pollution to train traffic - small communities are put at risk at every stage of this process, with massive profits going to coal companies like Peabody, Kinder Morgan, and Australia-based Ambre Energy.

Current status of the campaign:

There are currently six coal potential coal export sites: the Port of St Helens, Port of Morrow, and Port of Coos Bay in Oregon and at ports in Longview, Grays Harbor and Cherry Point, Washington. All of these projects will require new permits and some amount of new infrastructure - from dredging to rail improvements - which means there are real opportunities for the public to step in and prevent this destruction.

Unfortunately, in Oregon especially, decisions are being made quickly – with little space for public input or transparency on the part of government officials or corporate officials. In January, Port of St Helens commissioners gave Ambre Energy and Kinder Morgan the green light to use their port to export up to 38 million tons of coal per year. This decision was made in a closed door executive session, with little notice or opportunity given to local communities to weigh in on the process.

Millennium Bulk Logistics is already on the record lying to the public about the size and scope of their export proposal in Longview, WA. Where else might the coal industry be misleading the public and key decision makers?

Oregon Governor Kitzhaber said that the decision to open up his state to coal exports “should not happen in the dead of night,” but the reality is that the public is being denied full participation in a process that could radically transform the Pacific Northwest as we know it. To prevent coal exports through the region - and protect clean air and water - we also need a clean government.

In the end, this will come down to a choice for our elected officials - do they support the people of Oregon and Washington, and the pristine natural heritage of the region or will they allow the profits of a few multi-billion dollar coal companies to come first?

What you can do about it:

Oregon Residents: Call on Governor Kitzhaber and other public officials to step up and protect Oregon by doing everything in their power to stop coal export proposals.

Greenpeace is working with the Power Past Coal coalition and communities throughout Oregon to prevent dangerous coal export projects.

Also, check out this video of a coal train traveling from a mine to an export terminal, covering the area with toxic coal dust. If we don't act now the beautiful Pacific Northwest will be overrun with trains like this:

Follow along as activists in the Pacific Northwest journey along the rail lines to bear witness to the destruction coal exports have on the local environment.