Public's Turn To Speak On Longview Coal Export Plan Comes Amid Market Doubts

Sep 17, 2013

A series of public hearings on the Millennium coal export project in Longview, Washington begin Tuesday. New rules in China and declining coal prices worldwide are raising questions about whether the project will pan out.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Washington Department of Ecology are taking public comments on which environmental impacts they should consider in the project's permitting process. Developer Millennium Bulk Terminals wants to export up to 44 million tons of coal a year. The coal would be shipped to Asia from the Powder River Basin, which straddles Wyoming and Montana. But critics of the project say as world coal prices drop, that plan might not make sense financially. Ross MacFarlane of the environmental group Climate Solutions told members of the news media last month that industry analysts predict hard times ahead for coal exporters.

MacFarlane: "They're seeing very significant changes in China markets and Asian economies which are likely to make coal export bets increasingly risky and increasingly unlikely to be in the money in the coming years."

On Thursday, China announced announced it is banning the construction of new coal-fired power plants in three major cities to control air pollution. Meanwhile, economic growth in China is slowing down, and The New York Times reports numerous coal companies are cutting back their mining operations and putting export projects on hold. But backers of the Millennium project say their plans to export coal through Longview haven't changed. Wendy Hutchinson is vice president of public affairs for Millennium.

Hutchinson: "I think things are fluctuating right now. I do believe the long-term demand is there. And it is a commodity so the price is going to fluctuate. We are in this it's a long-term investment of private demand to meet long term demand."

Five hearings on the environmental review for the Millennium project are planned in Washington state this month and next in Longview, Spokane, Pasco, Vancouver and Tacoma.

Copyright 2013 Oregon Public Broadcasting