CLATSKANIE, Ore. — The Columbia Pacific Building Trades Council and Kinder Morgan signed a memorandum of understanding May 4 guaranteeing that a proposed multi-million-dollar coal export terminal at Port Westward Industrial Park will be built with local union labor under a project labor agreement (PLA).
Port Westward is located at the Port of St. Helens, about 60 miles northwest of Portland near Clatskanie, along the Columbia River.
At the signing ceremony in the board room of Plumbers and Fitters Local 290 in Tualatin, Allen Fore, director of public affairs for Kinder Morgan Energy Partners, and Marco Ullmer, head of terminal business development, asked unions for support in lobbying public officials and talking to their members and the community about the economic benefits such a project would have in Oregon.
Kinder Morgan’s plan is to transport coal by railcar from the Powder River Basin in Wyoming and Montana to Port Westward, where it will be loaded onto ships bound for Asia. Fore and Ullmer said loading will be done by workers under a contract with the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, and that the terminal design will incorporate “Best Control Technology” that minimizes or eliminates environmental impacts to air, land, and water.
“It will be constructed the ‘Oregon Way,’ meeting or exceeding all regulations out there,” Fore said.
Constructing the terminal will cost about $200 million and create more than 150 construction jobs over an 18- to 30-month period. Once completed, there will be 80 full-time jobs, with an annual payroll of approximately $13.6 million.
Morgan Kinder is looking to export 15 million tons of coal a year in a first phase, with potential for another 15 million tons in a second phase.
The United States has the largest coal reserves in the world, and currently exports 80 million to 107 million tons of coal a year. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, six of 11 seaports on the Gulf Coast and East Coast accounted for 94 percent of those exports in 2011. Over 65 percent of total U.S. coal exports last year were coking coal, which is used in making iron and steel. Steam coal, used to generate electricity, comprised the remaining 35 percent of exports.
Currently, Canada has the only coal export terminals on the West Coast. However, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, last year 4,863,661 tons of U.S. steam coal bound for Asia traveled by rail through the Seattle Customs District, which covers all of Northwest Washington — including the ports of Seattle, Tacoma, Bellingham, and Everett — on its way to the Port of Vancouver in British Columbia.
Kinder Morgan still is in a due diligence period, meeting with community leaders to secure the necessary approvals for construction at Port Westward. It has the support of the Port of St. Helens board of commissioners, who earlier this year approved a lease agreement.
Other coal exporters are looking to build terminals at ports in Coos Bay, a second terminal at Port Westward, and in Longview and Bellingham, Washington. If all are successful, it could boost U.S. coal exports by an additional 157 million tons a year.
Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber hasn’t taken a stand for or against exporting coal, but earlier this month he sent letters to the secretary of the Army, the Department of Interior, the Army Corps of Engineers, and the director of the Bureau of Land Management requesting that a “programmatic environmental impact statement” be conducted for all the coal export facility proposals under the National Environmental Protection Act to examine the effects of coal transport to the West Coast and the use of coal for electricity production in Asia before any further permitting or leasing decisions are made.
“It is imperative that the federal government take seriously its responsibility to make informed decisions, and that there be a comprehensive look at the energy, environmental, and public health impacts of these proposals before the nation commits itself to this path,” Kitzhaber said.
Environmental groups strongly oppose exporting coal from Northwest ports. Two days after the building trade’s MOU was signed, several hundred activists rallied in downtown Portland against the proposed terminals. Their keynote speaker was Robert F. Kennedy Jr., president of the Waterkeeper Alliance and an opponent of coal energy.
Earlier this month, Portland General Electric rejected Kimber Morgan’s initial proposal for a terminal location at Port Westward, saying coal dust could potentially impact two natural gas plants it operates there. PGE has lease control of about 850 acres at the industrial park.
Fore told union officials at the signing ceremony that media reports calling it a major setback “could not be further from the truth.” He said a specific location has yet to be identified, “other than it’s at the port.”