SALEM — Environmental groups stepped up pressure Tuesday on Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber to push a state agency to reject permit applications for a proposed coal-export facility on the Columbia River.
The Sierra Club said it has launched radio ads and billboards highlighting health concerns about the Morrow Pacific project. Several hundred activists recently rallied in Portland.
Critics of the project have also organized opposition among business leaders and published a report asserting the project poses risks to tourism and recreational interests.
“We’re calling for leadership from Gov. Kitzhaber to be sure we’re getting the full scope and the full picture of these proposals, and the projects are getting the scrutiny that they deserve from the agencies that he oversees,” said Shane Levy, a Sierra Club spokesman.
Supporters of the project say it would create jobs and provide an economic boost to rural areas of Oregon.
Liz Fuller, a spokeswoman for the project, noted that its critics have accelerated efforts since the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality issued three permits last month covering air quality, water quality and construction storm water.
“We welcome a robust dialogue on the project,” Fuller said.
Ambre Energy, based in Brisbane, Australia, wants to transport coal from Wyoming and Montana through Oregon on its way to power-hungry Asian markets. The company proposed bringing coal by train to Boardman, where it would be loaded on barges at the Port of Morrow and transported down the Columbia River. At the Port of St. Helens, it would be transferred to oceangoing ships.
The project has cleared several regulatory hurdles, including the DEQ permits, but faces several more at the state and federal levels. The environmental groups want the Department of State Lands to reject permits for docks in the Columbia River, as well as construction-related activity.
Kitzhaber, Secretary of State Kate Brown and state Treasurer Ted Wheeler make up the three-member board overseeing the land agency, but the pressure has focused primarily on Kitzhaber.
In the Sierra Club radio ads, Dr. Martin Donohoe of Oregon Physicians for Social Responsibility speaks directly to Kitzhaber, “doctor to doctor.” He highlights the organization’s concerns about the health risks of transporting and burning coal, saying it risks increasing the risk of asthma, heart attacks, strokes, cancer and mercury exposure.
Ambre rejects the health concerns, saying coal is an important part of the world’s energy supply and can be safely transported.
The ads will play about 200 times on six Portland radio stations, said Levy of the Sierra Club. Two billboards are going up in Salem and one in Portland, Levy said.