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Commentary: Fueling gorge pollution and competition overseas

— By Andrea Rogers, Kate McBride and Dan Spatz

For the Chronicle

As elected officials in the Columbia River Gorge, we are frequently asked to weigh in on projects that affect our local quality of life. Few, however, present such potentially adverse economic and environmental effects as the continuing expansion of coal shipments.

Only a few trains currently transport coal through the gorge, and already we’re seeing the damage caused by coal dust on our landscape and in our waterways. Now we face a new threat: the prospect of coal shipments by barge for export to Asia through Ambre Energy’s Morrow Pacific project.

This project would nearly double current barge traffic in the gorge, harming river recreation, increasing risks to salmon populations and representing a significant safety threat from barge crashes or fires.

Six city and community councils in the National Scenic Area have passed resolutions expressing their concerns regarding coal exports or calling for additional study, including our own cities of Hood River, Mosier and The Dalles.

Determining whether or not to issue a permit for a project of this magnitude takes careful consideration, and the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality should not rush to a decision on the issuance of an air permit for the Morrow Pacific project.

To do so would be irresponsible, since an environmental impact statement has yet to be announced and the public has not been given the opportunity to have its concerns studied.

Ambre Energy recently has pushed premature permitting demands on Oregon state agencies. The company originally balked at the Department of State Lands’ requests for more information about the potential effects of the coal terminal before issuing a dredging permit for the project.

It wasn’t until just before the permit application was set to expire on April 1 that the company changed its tone and agreed to a five-month extension for the Morrow Pacific project’s permit application.

We applaud the state for requiring additional information and studies on this proposal, and we are relieved that Ambre Energy is being forced to provide this information about the effects of their projects on aquatic life and habitat in the Columbia River, tribal fishing treaty rights and cultural resources. However, we are deeply troubled by this company’s reluctance to provide essential details on the true scope and impact of its proposed terminal.

We call upon the federal government to establish a national energy policy that will preclude the export of American coal to distant lands, where it fuels industries that compete for American jobs.

Exporting coal not only harms our environment, but it harms our national and local economies as well. We urge Oregon officials to protect special places like the Columbia River Gorge by denying statewide permits for coal export terminals.

Andrea Rogers is the mayor of Mosier. Kate McBride is a Hood River city councilor. Dan Spatz is a city councilor for The Dalles.

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