Environmental groups defeat proposed Kinder Morgan Export Plant at Port Westward, Oregon 2012-2013

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Time Period:  
Time period notes: 
The protest against this specific coal export plant was one of 6 proposed plants during that time period. The environmental groups involved had already been waging a nonviolent campaign against the export of coal when they turned their attention to the proposed plant at Port Westward.
Location and Goals
United States
Location City/State/Province: 
St. Helens, Oregon
"Our Goal is to make sure no additional coal is exported through Columbia Gorge." -Michael Lang, Conservation Director of Friends of the Columbia Gorge

In 2010, the companies Ambre Energy and Kinder Morgan began trying to establish coal export plants in the Northwest United States of America to ship coal to Asian markets where it was increasingly in demand. At the time, the only coal export plants in that region were in Canada. To reach the west coast the coal would have to travel in open train cars past river ecosystems sensitive to pollution.

In 2010, Ambre Energy submitted a permit request to ship 5 million tons of coal from the proposed Longview facility on the Oregon coast. However, they had to remove their application in 2011 after a public records request by Columbia Riverkeeper showed that they had actually planned to ship 60 million tons of coal from the facility.

On 14 June 2011, the Port of St. Helens released legal documents that indicated they had been talking with a coal export terminal developer.

Opponents of the coal industry were worried about the negative impacts on the environment that the coming of long, open car coal trains would have, while supporters of the plants argued that the plants would create jobs and increase tax revenue.

In response, Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber said that the development of any such terminal should be open to “vigorous public debate” before moving forward.

After a series of private meetings with the Kinder Morgan corporation, on 25 January 2012 Commissioners of Oregon’s Port St. Helens said Kinder Morgan could export coal from the Port Westward industrial park, which was under the Commissioners’ jurisdiction.

The Power Past Coal Coalition immediately protested. The coalition included environmental groups such as the Columbia Riverkeeper, Friends of the Columbia Gorge and the Sierra Club.

Oregon Governor Kitzhaber was concerned about the environmental impact of having one or more coal exports in Oregon, and did not trust the estimates provided by Kinder Morgan and Ambre Energy. In April 2012 he sent a letter to the federal government requesting an extensive investigation of the potential environmental impact of the export of coal through Northwest ports.

Another institution that opposed the proposed plant was a major shareholder in the Port of St. Helens. On 2 May 2012, Portland General Electric vetoed the initial proposal for the coal export terminal at Port Westward, because they were worried that the coal dust from the trains and plant would interfere with the electric plants in the surrounding area.

Citizens exerted their influence nonviolently. On 7 May volunteer groups and non-profits, including members of the Power Past Coal Coalition, held a rally to oppose the development of coal terminals in northwest ports. Over 600 people attended the rally, and Robert F. Kennedy Jr. gave a speech condemning the proposed plant.

In an attempt to get another social elite involved in the campaign against Kinder Morgan, on 24 July 2012 the North Portland Coal Committee planned a protest at President Obama’s Portland campaign fundraiser to lobby the president to oppose the project.

Meanwhile, members of the Power Past Coal Coalition were conducting petitioning and lobbying campaigns in which they petitioned citizens across Oregon as well as local government officials who the lobbyers believed would be affected by the coal plant. These campaigns, while not rigidly organized, were ongoing and extended for an indefinite period of time.

The next major protest of the Kinder Morgan Port Westward Coal Export Plan was held early the following year, 31 March 2013, when Columbia County held a hearing for the application to change the zoning of a 957 acre plot of land owned by Port Westward industrial park from agriculture to industrial. Around 100 protesters came to the hearing to express their concern that the expansion would be used to facilitate the export of coal.

Then on 6 May Scapoose’s city council passed a resolution of concern on coal trains.

On 8 May 2013, Kinder Morgan announced it was scrapping its plans to build a coal export plant on the Columbia River.

Brett Vanden Hueval, executive director of Columbia Riverkeeper, declared it a huge victory for Oregon. The environmental groups met their goal of preventing coal exports from Oregon at this time. Coal export plants near the Columbia River Gorge may, however, be proposed in the future.

Research Notes
Englefried, Nick. "Big Coal faces big opposition in Pacific Northwest." Waging NonViolence. N.p., 24 May 2013. Web. 5 Feb. 2014.

"Coal Exports from the Pacific Northwest." Earthjustice. Earthjustice, 16 Mar. 2011. Web. 7 Feb. 2014.

Cunningham, Nick. "Fighting West Coast Coal Exports." DC Bureau. DC Bureau, 26 Sept. 2013. Web. 6 Feb. 2014.

Spear, Stefanie. "Hundreds Protest Coal Exporting at Rally with Robert F. Kennedy Jr. ." EcoNews. EcoNews, 7 May 2012. Web. 6 Feb. 2014.

Learn, Scott. "Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber calls for sweeping review of planned coal exports from Northwest ports." The Oregonian [Portland, OR]. The Oregonian, 28 Apr. 2012. Web. 6 Feb. 2014.

Learn, Scott. "Port of St. Helens a potential candidate for a terminal to export coal to Asia." The Oregonian [Portland, OR]. The Oregonian, 14 June 2011. Web. 7 Feb. 2014.

Learn, Scott. "Port of St. Helens approves coal export agreements with two companies." The Oregonian [Portland, OR]. The Oregonian, 26 Jan. 2012. Web. 7 Feb. 2014.

Learn, Scott. "Portland General Electric vetoes initial proposal for coal export terminal at Oregon's Port Westward." The Oregonian [Portland, OR]. The Oregonian, 3 May 2012. Web. 7 Feb. 2014.

Rogers, Andrea, Kate McBride, and Dan Spatz. "State should deny coal project permits to protect the Columbia River Gorge: Guest opinion." The Oregonian [Portland, OR]. The Oregonian, 21 Apr. 2013. Web. 7 Feb. 2014.

Name of researcher, and date dd/mm/yyyy: 
Tom McGovern 11/02/2014