Coal Export Project Held to Unfair Standards (The Oregonian)
Morrow Pacific coal project has been treated unfairly: Guest opinion
By John Mohlis, Robert Keyser and Don Russell
Oregon’s regulatory and permitting standards were designed to protect our natural landscapes and unique quality of life, while allowing economic development projects that meet our high standards to proceed. Regulators must balance environmental and economic interests, and do so with impartiality, fairness and discipline.
The challenge of maintaining that balance is significant, and we write today to voice concern that it has slipped. Specifically, we have observed an increasingly politicized permitting process for the Morrow Pacific project, a proposed coal export project.
The Morrow Pacific project was designed to minimize impact to the environment and leverage our ports and export and manufacturing sectors by investing in rural counties. The project represents a capital investment of more than $242 million in Oregon, creating more than 2,100 construction jobs and 1,000 operations jobs.
In February of this year the project was granted three permits from the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) – a signal that it meets state standards.
As The Oregonian has reported, the permits did not come quickly or easily. Up to a certain point, this is understandable. There are strong emotions surrounding this commodity, with passion both in opposition and support of the project. Permitting processes were structured to accommodate public input, which required time and process. However, at a certain point, regulators have gone too far.
Over the past few years, we have observed DEQ and Department of State Lands (DSL) reversing permitting criteria and establishing expanded state regulatory processes, including steps that impede and even supersede federal permitting processes. Not only are regulators placing an undue burden on the Morrow Pacific project, these decisions risk impacting future projects and port development.
Recent decisions by DSL have effectively moved the goal line by requesting information of the project that falls under the purview of federal agencies. Now, in an arbitrary decision and without advance notice, DSL plans to make a decision by the end of May on a removal/fill permit, without allowing sufficient time for the project to complete federal processes and provide requested information to the state.
DSL Director Mary Abrams was recently quoted in The Oregonian saying, “there are ways to make economic development and good environmental choices at the same time.”
Morrow Pacific will achieve that balance while creating good jobs to support families, quality schools and strong communities. Bridging the gap to economic recovery in rural communities is essential to Oregon’s long-term prosperity.
We urge state regulators to be fair, timely and transparent for all projects. Well-designed projects like Morrow Pacific should be allowed to proceed.
John Mohlis is executive secretary of the Oregon State Building and Construction Trades Council, Robert Keyser is president of the Port of St. Helens Commission, and Don Russell is president of the Port of Morrow Commission.
See article here.