Email
Password
Remember meForgot password?
    Log in with Twitter

article imageCoal companies plead to courts and Trump for West Coast terminals

By Karen Graham     Jan 30, 2018 in Business
The failing U.S. coal industry is ramping up its political and legal efforts to get a foothold in shipping terminals on the West Coast, but California and Washington state are saying "no way."
Coal producers have filed to recent lawsuits, one in California and the other in Washington state, challenging local decisions to block port projects on environmental grounds. They are also spending a pretty penny with ramped up lobbying efforts to get the Trump administration to override state bans on coal terminals and rail shipments across state lines.
This latest effort by the coal sector shows just how desperate the situation has become now that U.S. utilities are shifting away from coal-fired power plants to cleaner renewable energy sources. This is happening despite Trump's policies supposedly aimed at helping miners.
Hal Quinn, the president of the National Mining Association. said the "proposed" port projects are absolutely crucial to the growth of the coal industry, according to Fox News. "It’s worth fighting these battles," he said.
However, courts in the past have tended to side with local authorities in similar cases, so it will be difficult, at best, and the Trump administration's policies on forcing unwanted coal infrastructure on local governments is still unclear.
Coal sector wants a piece of Asian market
The coal industry has had plans on the books for at least seven coal terminals on the West Coast for the last 10 years. To the coal sector, the West Coast is nothing more than the gateway to Asia and the global market. Five of the projects have been canceled, mainly because of bitter opposition from California, Oregon and Washington state.
The two projects - one in Oakland, California and the other in Longview, Washington - are the projects the coal industry have filed lawsuits over. And they need some relief soon, due to rising demands for coal in Japan, China, and Korea.
View into the Eagle Butte coal mine in Gillette  in Wyoming s Powder River Basin. The open-pit  truc...
View into the Eagle Butte coal mine in Gillette, in Wyoming's Powder River Basin. The open-pit "truck and shovel" mine produces low-sulfur, sub-bituminous coal from the vast Roland and Smith seams. Library of Congress: Catalog: http://lccn.loc.gov/2015634124
Carol M. Highsmith
"There are 45 new coal plants planned or under construction in Japan alone," said Rick Curtsinger, a spokesman for Colorado-based Cloud Peak, which mines in Montana and Wyoming.
What is really strange is that Cloud Peak announced a deal earlier this month to ship coal from a Montana mine to two new coal gasification power plants in Fukushima, Japan. Problem is, the only coal port facility in western North America is in British Columbia, Canada, and it's at near capacity.
Not only is Japan in favor of buying more U.S. coal, but South Korea is interested. An official with a South Korean power utility, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said: "The popularity of U.S. coal is rising among utilities in South Korea because of relatively low prices."
It should be noted that despite all the problems with shipping coal, coal exports did rise 60 percent during the first five months of 2017, primarily because of a temporary disruption of supplies from Australia and depressed U.S. coal prices.
Shipments to Europe rose about one third, to 16 million tons, compared to the same period in 2016, according to U.S. Department of Energy data. Exports to Asia doubled, to 12.3 million tons, over the same period.
Cloud Peak s Antelope mine.
Cloud Peak's Antelope mine.
Cloud Peak Energy Inc.
Lawsuits and policy solutions
Lawsuits have been filed in both California and Washington this month, with attorneys for coal export terminal developer Phil Tagami and leading Utah coal producer Bowie Resources kicking off the proceedings in federal court in Oakland. They are saying Oakland City Council used flawed scientific data in 2016 to reach their unanimous decision to reject the terminal proposal.
The city has so far spent more than a million dollars in legal fees to keep Utah coal out of Oakland ports, said Oakland Council Member Dan Kalb. "I am saddened they are continuing to fight," he said.
And in Washington state, Lighthouse Resources, the developer of the proposed Millennium coal export terminal in Longview, filed another federal lawsuit earlier this month against the governor and state regulators. Lawyers are using a different tactic, saying the state is obstructing the commerce of other states where the coal is mined and that only the federal government can regulate such interstate commerce.
The Port of Longview  established in 1921  has eight marine terminals handling a wide range of cargo...
The Port of Longview, established in 1921, has eight marine terminals handling a wide range of cargo.
Sam Beebe
But it is the lobbying effort that is possibly the scariest, and that is because of the way the Trump administration is pushing its political clout to set policy. Quinn, of the National Mining Association, says the lobby is pushing the White House and Congress for policy solutions – potentially through an infrastructure spending package. Other lobbyists will be working on Congress to tackle the interstate commerce argument.
“The administration can have some influence if the opposition drifts into an area where it is treading on federal authority,” said Bud Clinch, director of the Montana Coal Council.
And this route could deal a blow to West Coast interests in keeping coal export terminals out of their states. Last fall, Energy Department Deputy Secretary Dan Brouillette suggested the federal government could use the U.S. Federal Power Act to supersede state efforts to block gas pipelines.
"We can’t stop a state legislature and a governor from doing what they think is in their self-interest," he said during an event at the National Petroleum Council. "But these are interstate industries." So does this mean the coal sector is looking to the administration to step in and save them again?
More about coal companies, Lawsuits, West Coast Environmental Law, coal terminals, Trump
 
Latest News
Top News