Press Release - Environmental challenge to La. coal terminal settles out of court

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Environmental Organizations targeting a coal export terminal in Louisiana under the Clean Water Act moved to settle out of court Aug. 18 after the facility's backers agreed to a series of financial and environmental protection obligations.

The parties filed a consent decree on Aug. 18, appealing for a stay to the case under an agreement that United Bulk Terminals Davant, LLC would meet a collection of requirements laid out in the settlement.

The initial legal challenge was filed by environmental advocacy groups, the Louisiana Environmental Action Network, Gulf Restoration Network, and Sierra Club, in March 2014 following allegations that the facility "spilled significant amounts of coal and petroleum coke" at its export terminal in violation of the Clean Water Act.

The settlement was celebrated by local environmental groups as a step towards accountability.

"It's exciting to see that this lawsuit has resulted in an investment in coastal restoration, since we know that coal and petcoke from nearby coal export facilities are polluting coastal wetlands," said Scott Eustis, coastal wetland specialist at the Gulf Restoration Network. "Louisiana's future depends upon the protection of our coastal wetlands; we can't let coal pollution threaten restoration plans."

According to a court filing in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana, UBT "shall modify existing operational practices to further minimize potential releases or spills of product from transfer and loading/unloading operations" through a series of monitoring and improvement actions.

As a part of the settlement, UBT will be required to wet coal barges to minimize dust and suspend all loading and unloading activities when wind speeds exceed 45 mph, in addition to several other actions aimed at minimizing dust in the area.

In addition to covering $91,855 in legal fees, UBT will donate "$75,000 directly to the Woodlands Conservancy on behalf of the Woodlands Trail and Bird Park Sanctuary as a Supplemental Environmental Project" within 30 days of the effective date of the agreement. The settlement will now be subject to a 45-day review period by the U.S. Department of Justice.

"Anything that's going to make United Bulk comply with the Clean Water Act is a good thing," said Plaquemines Parish Councilwoman Audrey Salvant in a statement. "The company should be held accountable."

According to Oiltanking Partners LP, which is listed as the parent company of UBT, the facility is located on 1,134 acres and has an annual throughput of 11 million tons, with an on-site storage capacity of 3.5 million tons.

The case marks the latest effort to reduce or minimize the impact of coal traffic through terminals in Plaquemines Parish, located in southern Louisiana, not far from New Orleans.

"How do you put a coal plant in a place with hurricanes and strong winds and people?" said local resident Linda Ramil in a statement. "Coal terminals just don't make sense for us. It's a no win situation, and that's why we don't want the RAM coal export terminal in the community."

In recent months, environmental and community groups have targeted the proposed RAM Terminal project. First proposed by St. Louis-based Armstrong Energy Inc. through unit RAM Terminals LLC, the coal export facility was intended to service Panamax ships, allowing them to move up to 6 million tons of coal per year through the Louisiana port.

The proposed facility has been the subject of local government and environmental challenges, resulting in the invalidation of one of three permits required to complete the project in December 2014. However, the terminal was revived in May with an amended appeal to state regulators for the invalidated permit.

Plaquemines Parish is also home to Kinder Morgan Inc.'s International Marine Terminals, a 150-acre facility with 1.3 million tons in storage capacity.

UBT could not be reached for comment on the settlement.

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