The Oregon Department of Environmental Quality has issued three permits for the coal export terminal that Ambre Energy wants to build on the Columbia River in the Eastern Oregon town of Boardman.
The air quality, water quality, and construction stormwater permits are the first permits issued for the facility, also known as Coyote Island Terminal. The project still must receive permits from the Oregon Department of State Lands and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
The department also recommended that the project receive an additional water quality certification. Although environmental groups opposed to the terminal are unhappy the department issued the permits, they say this new certification will require a broader look at the terminal's effect on the Columbia River as a whole.
The terminal is part of the Morrow Pacific project. It would transport 8.8 million tons of coal per year by rail from Montana and Wyoming by rail to Boardman. From there, coal would be barged down the Columbia River to a port near Clatskanie, Ore., where it would would then be placed on ocean-going ships bound for Asia.
"We issued the permits because the applicant met all of the environmental rules and regulations that we require. In these cases DEQ is required by law to issue the permits," said DEQ spokeswoman Marcia Danab.
The department received more than 16,500 public comments during three hearings. The comments raised concerns ranging from global impacts of exporting coal to worries about the impacts on local transportation. In addition, many people voiced support for the terminal's potential to benefit the economy, Danab said.
Danab said the department made changes to the air quality permit based on the public comments. It also is recommending that federal regulators should issue Coyote Island Terminal a water quality certificate.
She said such a certificate would be issued only if regulators conclude that the coal terminal would not violate water quality standards.
"If it looks like it will cause some pollution to the Columbia River, in this case, we would look at what kinds of best management practices the company would have to put in place," Danab said.
Ambre Energy says it will continue seeking permits with the Oregon Department of State Lands and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
“As we’ve said all along, we are committed to meeting the high environmental standards set by the state of Oregon. By issuing these three permits after a rigorous process, the Department of Environmental Quality has affirmed that the project complies with environmental rules and regulations of the state of Oregon,” said Clark Moseley, Morrow Pacific project CEO, in a statement.
Environmental groups say the water quality certificate is an answer to concerns that the department was taking too narrow an approach in the permitting process.
"[The certificate] is going to take a broad look at this, much more broad than just the simple permits for the facility itself," said Brett VandenHeuvel, executive director of Columbia Riverkeeper. "They can look at the impacts on salmon, on human health, and on the water quality of the Columbia as a whole."