Huge news yesterday: Portland General Electric slammed the door on Kinder Morgan’s scheme to build a giant coal export facility on the Columbia River.

The reason? Because PGE agrees with what Sightline has been arguing: coal terminals mean coal dust pollution. And coal dust pollution, Sightline has shown, jeopardizes local health, environment, and economies.

Kinder Morgan, in particular, should not be trusted with coal-handling. The company’s track record is one of pollution, law-breaking, and cover-ups.

So PGE deserves a standing ovation for thwarting Kinder Morgan’s plans to build a coal terminal on port land for which PGE holds a long-term lease. But PGE’s decision is probably less about environmental responsibility than about plain business sense. The utility operates a natural gas plant near the proposed coal site and company officials worry that coal dust would foul the generating equipment. And PGE is right to worry: as Sightline has documented extensively, Kinder Morgan’s coal operations are plagued by escaping coal dust.

If PGE is right that coal dust is too risky for power plants, what might it mean for our lungs? Or for Columbia River fish?

Remember, PGE knows coal. They’ve been handling and burning it for decades at the Boardman Coal Plant in eastern Oregon. They know first-hand how dirty and dangerous it is. Presumably, they know too that coal terminals make terrible neighbors.

Today, we can watch Kinder Morgan’s PR flaks scramble to spin the story, like so:

“The PGE leasehold is only one of those sites. … Nothing has changed. We don’t have a site identified, and we have not put forth a proposal,” Fore said.

Really, Kinder Morgan?

Then why do Kinder Morgan’s own publicity materials identify a specific site? And why do they include a photograph of it labeled “proposed terminal development”?

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  • PGE also raised concerns about coal trains causing congestion around its port sites. It’s an issue that will plague any large coal export plans for the Northwest, and it’s good to see big business begin to draw attention to the problem.

    Media coverage today suggests that Kinder Morgan and the Port of St. Helens, Oregon will continue looking for useable coal terminal space, but port officials acknowledge that PGE’s decision is a big step backward for their plans.

    Coal terminals are a dirty business as a general matter, but Kinder Morgan is surely among the worst actors in the modern fossil fuel economy:

    • In Louisiana, Kinder Morgan’s coal export facilities are so dirty that satellite photos clearly show coal dust pollution spewing into the Mississippi River.
    • In South Carolina, coal dust from Kinder Morgan’s terminal contaminates oysters, pilings, and boats. Locals have even caught the company on video washing coal directly into sensitive waterways.
    • In Virginia, Kinder Morgan’s coal export terminal is an open sore on the neighborhood, coating nearby homes in dust so frequently that even the mayor is speaking out about the problem.
    • In Portland, Kinder Morgan officials bribed a ship captain to illegally dump contaminated material at sea, and their operations have repeatedly polluted the Willamette River.
    • Kinder Morgan has been fined by the US government for stealing coal from customer’s stockpiles, lying to air pollution regulators, illegally mixing hazardous waste into gasoline, and many other crimes.

    Kinder Morgan would likely make a bad neighbor, so PGE is turning them away. But PGE’s concerns are really broader concerns shared across the Northwest: regardless of who operates them, coal export terminals bring risks of pollution, congestion, and economic impairment.