Activists from around the Pacific Northwest gathered at the Ambridge Events Center in Portland on Thursday night to voice their opposition to the Coyote Island Terminal Project, which is spearheaded by Brisbane, Australia-based Ambre Energy. Tonight's informational meeting was hosted by the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), and was the third such event held in Oregon regarding the controversial coal terminal. While the project did have some supporters in attendance, a majority of the people were there to send the message that Oregon and the Pacific Northwest will not tolerate 8.8 million tons of coal slinking through its backyards each year.
If approved, the terminal would be constructed at the Port of Morrow and serve as a hub for shipping coal to the Asian-Pacific market, making it the only operational coal export terminal on the U.S. West Coast. According to Ambre Energy's website, 3.5 million metric tons of coal would be shipped each year in the first phase of the project, with that number increasing to 8.8 million tons during the second phase. The Department of Environmental Quality is responsible for reviewing the permit applications submitted for the project and will make a decision whether or not to grant Ambre Energy the right to transport metric tons of toxic crap through the region.
According to DEQ representatives, Thursday night's informational meeting was the largest one they have ever hosted, with some people arriving almost two hours early to claim a seat. Outside the building, activists chanted while a man dressed as Santa Clause handed out lumps of coal and posed for pictures. The Bike Swarm arrived to show everyone how much fun biking really is, and members of No Coal Eugene were stationed across the street to make sure that motorists from all directions could see their message. Inside, supporters of the project were standing around awkwardly watching a football game on a flat-screen television.
The hall was roaring with excitement in the minutes before the meeting began. An elderly gentleman defaced a Morrow Pacific sign and an employee scrambled to take it down, but not before someone snapped a photo of it. The meeting began and it wasn't long into the Q & A before it became apparent that there would be a lot of questions the DEQ couldn't answer. Many things were "out of their jurisdiction", and within the first half hour it had become a running joke amongst people asking questions. One man even opened his question with "I don't know if my question is going to be in your scope". The crowd cheered.
It was apparent that people weren't going to sit quietly, and at one point someone from the crowd asked if representatives from the Army Corps of Engineers were there (they were not), since they were playing an integral role in the analysis of the project. The DEQ board had a hard time answering questions, and seemed miffed by the shouts coming from the audience. At times the DEQ representatives refused to answer certain questions, deeming particular ones "rhetorical". Later, a union representative who was also a project supporter asked a rhetorical question which the board fielded without any issue.
The highlight of the evening came when someone posed a question about Ambre Energy's past regarding the Cloud Peak Energy lawsuit. When asked about whether or not they would consider Ambre Energy's past dishonesty, the DEQ responded that they would not take the company's past into account while making their decision. This was extremely alarming to pretty much everyone who was there to oppose the project, and is indicative of how narrow a scope the DEQ employs. It's not a lot to ask that the DEQ consults with companies who have done business with Ambre Energy, in order to ensure they are making the best choice for Oregon.
Portland made it clear Thursday night that they do not want this project to begin construction. The DEQ heard from various members of the community, including nurses, doctors, lawyers, councilwomen, concerned citizens, and one brave fifth grader. Activists sent a message to the DEQ and Ambre Energy that people will fight to keep coal terminals out of Oregon and off of the West Coast. The permit application deadline of April 1, 2013 is fast approaching, and residents of the Pacific Northwest will continue to fight to ensure that the DEQ will make the right decision and deny the permit applications.