Proposal for New Coal Export Terminal in Louisiana Faces Major Setbacks

After one year, the RAM Terminal has still not received Clean Water Act permits from the Army Corps of Engineers

July 11, 2013

Gulf Restoration Network: Scott Eustis, (504) 525-1528 x212,
Sierra Club: Devin Martin, (985) 209-5454,
Public Citizen Contact: Kaiba White, (512) 477-1155,
PREI Contact: Cornell Battle, (504) 578-2319

NEW ORLEANS, LA – With a rapidly declining use of coal for US electricity generation, the coal industry has increasingly looked to international exports. But as the international market begins to slow and local opposition rises, proposals to increase the volume of coal exports through the Gulf of Mexico region are looking less and less realistic. The poster child for the struggles facing coal exporters here is the proposed RAM coal export terminal in Plaquemines Parish, Louisiana. After more than a year of efforts, the Armstrong Energy-backed terminal has failed to receive a key permit necessary to begin construction of the facility.

Earlier this year, the New Orleans District of the Army Corps of Engineers ceased work on the permit application, citing “lack of responsiveness.” Spokespeople for the RAM proposal had estimated that they would be in operation by early 2014, but have pushed that date back to late 2014 or early 2015.[1]

“Emissions from coal-burning power plants account for the largest single source of greenhouse gas emissions globally, and rising sea levels are one of the largest threats to restoring Louisiana’s coastal wetlands and protecting the lives and property of its citizens. It makes no sense for Louisiana to allow its wetlands, seafood, and citizens to be put at risk so that out-of-state coal companies can sell subsidized American fuel to power factories and jobs in India and China,” said Devin Martin, organizer for the Sierra Club and member of the Clean Gulf Commerce Coalition. The Coalition is composed of citizens and environmental organizations who are concerned about the coal industry’s rush to export more coal through the Gulf of Mexico region. “The international coal market is declining, and citizens are voicing their opposition to projects that are clearly not in their benefit. This is not the time for state and local governments to subsidize or support a risky, dirty, and dying industry that has no where else to go.”

The Kentucky-based Armstrong Energy was proposing to construct the coal terminal directly adjacent to an area along the Mississippi River selected by the Louisiana Governor’s Office for the Myrtle Grove Diversion, the largest river diversion project in the state’s Coastal Master Plan for wetland restoration. The diversion is critical to restoring the state’s eroding coastal wetlands and protecting the seafood industry, both of which are still recovering from damages from the BP drilling disaster in 2010.

“Why would we allow an out-of-state firm to dump their coal and petroleum coke in the river, especially directly upstream where we want to restore the flow of sediment into our estuary? Why would we threaten this premier restoration project, with the millions of dollars and years of planning sunk into it, for yet another coal terminal when we already have two of the largest on earth just a few miles downriver?” said Scott Eustis from Gulf Restoration Network. “When we are staring down the Gulf of Mexico each hurricane season, how can we afford the risk of dirty coal and petroleum coke wastes in the protective marshes we are trying to restore?”

Environmental groups and local residents aren’t the only ones worried about the wisdom of allowing another coal terminal in this sensitive area. State officials have expressed their concerns about potential impacts from the coal terminal affecting the planned diversion projects. The state Department of Natural Resources, working closely with Louisiana’s Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority, issued a stringent list of conditions that the coal facility would have to meet in order to receive state permits to begin operation.

“We already have two coal terminals nearby that pollute our air and make it hard for our neighbors with asthma to go outside on windy days. More coal will only make the dust and water quality problems worse and bring little if any economic benefit to our communities. And burning that coal anywhere on the planet will cause sea-levels to rise. Why would Louisiana allow that, if we can stop it? Nowhere in America do people have more to lose from climate change and sea-level rise than here in coastal Louisiana,” says Cornell Battle, member of the newly-formed Plaquemines Residents for Environmental Integrity, which is partnering with the non-profit Global Community Monitor to document existing dust pollution in the area. “We congratulate the careful work by the Army Corps to ensure that Clean Water Act requirements are followed, and that wetlands and ecosystems in Louisiana are protected.”

“Exporting U.S. coal to foreign nations, some of whom have much less stringent environmental regulation than the US, is wholly inconsistent with the President’s aim to reduce US contributions to climate change,” said Kaiba White with Public Citizen, a non-profit citizens advocacy group. “In addition to following Clean Water Act requirements, we challenge the administration to live up to its stated policy goals and require agencies like the Corps of Engineers to follow the mandates of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and evaluate greenhouse gas emissions in their permitting processes, including the effect those emissions will have on sea level rise and the health of Louisiana’s wetlands and seafood industry.”

[1] Moore, A. “Permit delays push back Ram terminal opening.” Platt’s Coal Outlook 28 April, 2013: 12. Print/online.

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