Coal Export Rally at the Capitol

With 450 people in attendance, we rallied the capital to say NO to coal exports. Credit Gregory Sotir

With 450 people in attendance, we rallied the capital to say NO to coal exports. Credit Gregory Sotir

On Wednesday, March 13th, over 450 Oregon residents and a diverse group of local leaders flooded the steps of Oregon’s Capitol to call on Governor Kitzhaber to deny Ambre Energy a dredging permit at the Port of Morrow.   Ambre’s proposed  8.8 million ton per year Morrow Pacific coal export project poses significant risks, including increased coal train traffic, damage to the shoreline and wetlands with the construction of a dock, threatened fishing grounds, and a near doubling of barge traffic in the Columbia River Gorge.

The same day, Ambre Energy requested a deadline extension from the Oregon Department of State Lands (DSL).  The request followed Ambre’s March 1st letter to DSL, balking at the state agency’s request for more information about the potential impacts of the coal terminal and greater consultation with impacted parties.  The new decision date is now September 1st.  ( Coal exporter Ambre Energy faces 5-month delay on Oregon permit)

A diverse set of speakers— including doctors, fishermen, elected officials, business owners, and faith leaders— spoke out against coal export at the rally. Milwaukie Mayor Jeremy Ferguson emceed the event.   The event was organized by the Portland, Salem, and SW Washington Sierra Club Beyond Coal Task Force teams, and members of  the Power Past Coal Coalition –including Friends of the Columbia Gorge, Columbia Riverkeeper, Oregon Physicians for Social Responsibility, and the National Wildlife Foundation.

Milwaukie Mayor Jeremy Ferguson emceeing the event. Photo credit Greg Sotir

Milwaukie Mayor Jeremy Ferguson emceeing the event. Photo credit Greg Sotir

The Morrow Pacific project is essentially unstudied, yet Ambre Energy and its partners are pushing public officials to ignore their due diligence and move forward with permit issuance without so much as a public review. At the rally, many voiced that they can’t trust the Australian-based coal company.  In 2011 Ambre Energy lied to the community of Longview about its plans to expand from annual coal shipments of 5 million tons to as much as 80 million tons—15 times the amount claimed on its application.  Ambre’s refusal to disclose the full impacts of the Morrow Pacific project – as revealed in their letters to Oregon DSL – demonstrated a continuation of the company trying to hide the problems and full risks of the project.

Dr. Patrick O’Herron, M.D., a local surgeon practicing trauma and acute care surgery in Salem warned that Oregonians are being set up to be guinea pigs for a dangerous experiment if hundreds of coal trains are allowed to pass through local communities every month, blocking crucial intersections and delaying emergency response times.

“In trauma we speak of the golden hour. If a patient can be in the operating room within an hour of being injured they can survive pretty horrific injuries,” said Dr. O’Herron. “An hour from injury to the operating room doesn’t leave much time for dilly dallying. Would you want to be bleeding to death from an injury in the back of ambulance waiting for a mile and a half long coal train to lumber by?”

Salem trauma surgeon Dr. Patrick O’Herron, M.D., addresses the crowd at the Sound the Alarm Rally on March 13th . Photo by Greg Sotir.

Salem trauma surgeon Dr. Patrick O’Herron, M.D., addresses the crowd at the Sound the Alarm Rally on March 13th . Photo by Greg Sotir.

Bob Rees, the President of Northwest Guides and Anglers Association in Tillamook, is a sixth-generation Oregonian, life-long sportsman, and a professional fishing guide for over 20 years. He pointed to the environmental degradation that occurs with immense carbon emissions associated with the transporting and burning of coal as a serious threat to the longevity of the Pacific Northwest fishing industry.

“Coal is a leading culprit in the further degradation of our sensitive environment,” said Rees. “Our Pacific Northwest salmon stocks need clean water and healthy ecosystems. Coal exports push these already sensitive fish populations in the wrong direction, further jeopardizing the tens of thousands of jobs that salmon currently support.”

Echoing concerns about jobs, Marshall Runkel, a managing partner of GreenHome by EcoTech said that if we want to grow the economy, we’re going the wrong direction with exporting coal. “We don’t need to strip mine our country and ship our resources overseas to create jobs, says Runkel. “If our goal is jobs, then we should invest in energy efficiency which would create thousands of great jobs for insulators, electricians, plumbers, and HVAC technicians. These industries are integral to the fabric of our local communities.”

Additional speakers and delegates included:

  • Business leader Tim Hitchins, co-owner of Portland restaurant Blossoming Lotus
  • Neighborhood Association leaders: Anjala Ehelbe, Co-Chair of the Woodlawn Neighborhood Association, Greg Sotir, Cully NA, Shawn Looney and Rob Lee of Linnton NA, Steve Couche of the SE Uplift Neighborhood Coalition
  • Health professionals Dr. Theodora Tsongas, M.D., Dr. Adriana Voss-Andreae, M.D., Ph.D; Diane Winn, RN, MPH; Alona Steinke, RN, and Marilee Dea MSRN
  • Recreationists With Jim Chase, hiker; and Steve Goldstein, kayaker, and Mac McKinley, hiker.
  • Larissa DeHaas, Willamette University student.  With many fellow students from Willamette University, including Charleen Gust, Alex Lanz, Anna Freitas, and Peter Tkach; and 5th grader Yona Voss-Andreae.
  • Reverend Rick Davis, Unitarian Universalist Church of Salem. With Rev Vernon Groves, First United Methodist Church, Rev. Janet Parker, Salem United Church of Christ, and Rev. John Schweibert, Metanoia Peace Community, United Methodist Church.
Reverend Rick Davis speaks to the moral importance of stopping coal exports.  Photo by Greg Sotir

Reverend Rick Davis speaks to the moral importance of stopping coal exports. Photo by Greg Sotir

Ambre Energy has proposed to ship 8.8 million tons of coal down the Columbia River every year. Coal would be mined in Powder River Basin in Montana and Wyoming and shipped by rail to the Port of Morrow in Boardman, OR. It would then be transferred to barges and shipped down the Columbia River to Port Westward, where it would be transferred to ships and exported to Asia. This is one of five proposed coal export projects in the Pacific Northwest.

One Response to Coal Export Rally at the Capitol

  1. [...] Portland area are responding in creative ways to environmental challenges such as climate change (Oregon coal export controversy), food inequality and urban sprawl. We will spend the week exploring the city by foot, bike and [...]

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