Army Corps Shrinks Review Area For Columbia Coal Project

Sep 6, 2013

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has decided to shrink the endangered species review for the Morrow Pacific coal export project.

The project would transport coal from Wyoming and Montana to Oregon, down the Columbia River and overseas to Asia. It's one of three proposals to export coal through the Pacific Northwest. The two others are in Washington State. Environmentalists say the Corps' is choosing to ignore the endangered species impacts of transporting the coal in trains, barges and ships. Lauren Goldberg is a lawyer for the environmental group Columbia Riverkeeper.

Goldberg: "It's a huge rollback of their previous commitment to look at the entire length of the Columbia River and examine how coal export is going to impact endangered salmon."

As part of the project, developer Ambre Energy needs a permit from the Army Corps to build a new dock at the Port of Morrow in Boardman. That permit has to consider the impacts of the project to endangered species such as salmon and steelhead in the Columbia River. Last year, the company submitted a review of the project's impacts to endangered species. It included the dock site in Boardman and 276 miles of the Columbia River channel. But Corps spokesman Scott Clemans says his agency has since asked the company to reduce that area to less than one mile around the dock site.

Clemans: "Our interpretation of our responsibility under the Endangered Species Act is we need to study the effects of the action we are permitting, which is the construction of the dock."

Goldberg says she's worried that the Corps will also limit its review of the project's broader environmental impacts such as pollution from coal trains and burning the coal overseas. Clemans says his agency hasn't finalized the scope of its broader environmental review.

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