Oregon nixes permit for coal export project


YAKIMA — In a move that had been urged by the Yakama Nation and other critics, Oregon on Monday denied a key permit needed for construction of a proposed coal export project on the Columbia River.

The permit would’ve allowed Australia-based Ambre Energy to construct a rail-to-barge facility on the Columbia River near Boardman, Ore., creating a vital link that could send nearly 9 million tons of coal to Asia each year.

The proposal had been criticized for its effects on climate change, but also its impact on tribal fishing areas and recreation on the Columbia River.

After numerous delays and more than 20,000 public comments, the Oregon Department of State Lands denied a removal-fill permit for pilings in the Columbia River that would support construction of docks and conveyor systems to transfer coal from trains to barges.

“We believe our decision is the right one, considering our regulatory parameters laid out in Oregon law, and the wealth of information we have received from the applicant and the public,” Mary Abrams, the agency’s director, said in the announcement.

“We are pleased the State of Oregon acknowledges our treaty rights in its decision denying Ambre Energy’s permit application,” said Yakama Tribal Council Chairman JoDe Goudy in a statement released late Monday.

“But this is only the beginning of what I expect will be a long fight. Yakama Nation will not rest until the entire regional threat posed by the coal industry to our ancestral lands and waters is eradicated. We will continue to speak out and fight on behalf of our people, and for those things, which cannot speak for themselves, that have been entrusted to us for cultivation and preservation since time immemorial. Today, however, we thank and stand in solidarity with the state of Oregon, and celebrate its decision to protect the Columbia River from further damage and degradation.”

In May, members of the Yakama Nation fished at the proposed site to protest Ambre Energy’s claim that the project would not interfere with tribal fishing rights.

The Yakamas opposed the development, saying it would destroy fishing sites.

More broadly, they expressed concern about growing potential for pollution from increased coal traffic in the Columbia Gorge.

“We are river people,” George Selam, the chairman of the tribe’s General Council, said at the May protest. “Our lands have no price tag. Once our resources are gone, we’re gone.”

The Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission, which represents Yakama fishing interests, applauded Oregon’s decision in a news release as a “significant setback” for the project.

“Today’s landmark decision reflects what is in the best interest of the region, not a company’s pocketbook,” said Carlos Smith, chairman of the commission and a member of the Warm Springs Tribal Council.

“This decision is one that we can all celebrate. It reaffirms the tribal treaty right to fish, is in the best interest of the Columbia Basin’s salmon populations, and our communities.”

A spokeswoman for Ambre Energy said that the company disagrees with the agency’s decision and called it a political move.

“We are evaluating our next steps, and considering the full range of legal and permitting options,” Liz Fuller said in an email.

Under Oregon law, Ambre Energy may appeal the decision in front of an administrative law judge.


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