Huge news on the coal export front just now. As Scott Learn at The Oregonian reports, “Kinder Morgan drops plan to build coal export terminal at Port of St. Helens industrial park.”

Kinder Morgan had been planning to export as much as 30 million tons of coal each year on the Columbia River from a site near Clatskanie, Oregon, but their plans ran into a buzz saw of opposition from local communities, environmental and health advocates, and even nearby industrial users. This morning they announced that they are officially abandoning their plans to build a coal terminal at Port Westward.

Sightline’s research was instrumental in the debate. We published extensive documentation of Kinder Morgan’s problems with coal dust at their terminals, as well as the company’s lengthy rap sheet of fraud, illegal dumping, and lax safety. A month after we published our research, the utility PGE announced that it would not sublease its land at Port Westward to Kinder Morgan out of concern that the spread of coal dust would damage its gas turbines. Since then, the firm has struggled to configure its plans, but local opposition continued to mount while prices in Asia weakened.

Today’s news amounts to a huge victory for the Power Past Coal campaign. Of the six coal export terminals originally planned for the Northwest, three have now been withdrawn, in large part owing to an enormous backlash to the plans.

Predictably, Kinder Morgan is trying to downplay the role of coal export opponents in thwarting the company’s plans:

Kinder Morgan’s Allen Fore attributed the decision not to seek permits for a coal export terminal to site logistics at the Port of St. Helens industrial park, not the controversy over coal.

“We looked at multiple options and different footprints, but we couldn’t find one compatible with the facility we wanted to construct,” Fore said.

Yet the firm’s statement is revealing. Kinder Morgan had a specific project design that they presented to the public. After PGE rejected the plan—out of very justifiable objection to Kinder Morgan’s inability to contain coal dust—it had to go back to the drawing board. Having lost the element of surprise, they were met with opposition at every turn.

  • Kinder Morgan says, cryptically, that they are, “still looking for coal export sites in the Northwest,” though they won’t name specific sites.


    Postscript 5/14/13: A reader points out that this is actually Kinder Morgan’s second failed coal terminal project this year. The company backed out of plans at the Port of Wilmington, Delaware after they failed to reach agreement with the local longshoreman’s union.