Portland readies its anti-coal resolution
By Christina Williams
Sustainable Business Oregon editor
Portland City Commissioner Amanda Frtiz said she was inspired by Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.'s anti-coal stance to lead Portland's efforts to pass an anti-coal resolution. It's due on the council agenda in September.
The Vancouver City Council on Monday passed a resolution of concern about proposed coal export facilities in the Pacific Northwest, following on the heels of a similar resolution passed this spring in Seattle and prompting some to question why the city of Portland isn't weighing in on the debate.
Portland City Commissioner Amanda Fritz said Wednesday it's just a matter of time.
Fritz is working with the Friends of the Columbia River Gorge and the Sierra Club to draft an anti-coal resolution for Portland that she plans to present to Portland City Council on Sept. 12.
"It's not the appropriate time right now," Fritz said, adding she was spurred to action by Robert F. Kennedy Jr.'s visit to Portland in May to lead the charge on the resolution.
"He just made it crystal clear," she said.
Fritz said that Mayor Sam Adams is very supportive of the city taking an anti-coal stance.
Portland's move toward taking a formal position against coal comes along with an increasing chorus of questions being raised about the issue this week.
On Wednesday, Sen. Jeff Merkley, D - Ore., sent a letter calling for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Bureau of Land Management to conduct a comprehensive and expedited environmental impact study for the proposed coal export facilities in Oregon and Washington.
"The proposed export projects are a major undertaking but there has been significant uncertainty about the proposed facilities and communities are divided about the benefits and consequences of exporting coal,” wrote Merkley. “For that reason, I believe it is imperative that we do all we can to ensure there is full public disclosure of information about, and analysis of, the proposed facilities."
In April, Gov. John Kitzhaber issued a call to the same agencies, in addition to the Department of the Army and the Department of the Interior, asking for the same type of comprehensive review.
On Tuesday the Seattle nonprofit Sightline Institute, issued a report countering what the group calls the "myth" that coal export facilities would migrate to Canada if the Northwestern United States doesn't take them.
A half dozen coal export facilities have been proposed for different spots in the Pacific Northwest, with a concentration on the Columbia River. The facilities would handle coal arriving by train from the Powder River Basin and transport it to ships bound for Asia. While the facilities would bring good-paying jobs to some economically depressed corners of the region, environmental groups say the climate and air quality costs aren't worth it. Some city governments are also concerned about the transportation impacts of increased train traffic.
A city of Portland resolution on the topic wouldn't hold sway against any of the decisions that will be made about the terminals — as Fritz puts it: "We don't have any authority over coal trains."
But the resolution would serve to clarify city policy on the matter and join the call for a thorough environmental review before any federal approvals are given.
Fritz said she was heartened by the Port of Portland's anti-coal stance.
Port spokesman Josh Thomas told the Business Journal in March that any notion of a coal project at the Port of Portland is “essentially a nonstarter.”
Fritz said the port echoed that stance this week in a meeting about West Hayden Island, with officials stating explicitly that no new coal export facilities would be under consideration for the site.
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