There is a blight on the planet that is not in Washington D.C., Alberta or China. It’s called the Port of Morrow, it’s squatting ninety minutes away in Boardman, Ore., and we have a responsibility to shut it down.
Coal giant Ambre Energy has proposed a “water transloading facility” at Morrow which would be one cog in a larger shipping machine: Coal mined in the Power River Basin of Montana and Wyoming would be shipped to the port by the Union Pacific Railroad, whereupon it would be loaded onto barges and sent down the Columbia towards markets in Asia.
In a way, it’s good to see them shipping internationally. The fact that it’s more economical to send coal across the Pacific means that demand in the United States is falling.
On the other hand, using Morrow as a coal terminal will lead to disaster. First, the overland shipping will clog the local rail system, leading to costly delays for local farmers and infrastructure costs for the state. Then the dust from coal in the open cars will seep into our water and our lungs. Looming above it all is the threat of further climate change that will result from our continued enabling of China’s coal addiction.
It’s clear that Morrow needs to go, and local nonprofits are mobilizing against the entire export scheme. But how can we interfere with the project, and why is it our duty?
First, because it’s nearby. We can’t save the entire Northwest. The big players in Powder River Basin have proposed nine terminals from Oregon to British Columbia, and only Morrow is accessible to a Whitman student without losing a whole day to travel. Others will work to target the other eight, but it’s Morrow that’s threatening our home and way of life. However, we’re not only stuck with it nearby; it’s also stuck with us.
Second, because it affects us. Climate change’s major effect on the Northwest so far has been a decrease in average rainfall––this summer, Seattle tied their record for number of consecutive dry days. It’s this change that has allowed what seems like half of Washington, Oregon and Idaho to catch on fire. After this week, all of us know how much fun it is to go around breathing in particulates; wait until it’s coal dust instead of ash.
If Whitman students and Walla Walla residents let the Morrow project go through, it will come back to bite us. On, then, to what we can do as busy college students tied to our campus.
To start, we can put pressure on the Army Corps of Engineers. The USACE’s Portland office is conducting an environmental assessment for the project, which, according to The Oregonian, “are typically completed within months.” USACE Portland’s environmental phone number is (503) 808-4761; they can be written at P.O. Box 2946 / 333 SW First Ave., â€¨Portland, OR 97208-2946; and email is handled through their website. With enough vocal support, we can get them to consider a full environmental impact statement instead. This can often take years––and Ambre Energy’s hands would be tied the whole time.
They’ll also need a permit from the Oregon Department of State Lands ([email protected]; 775 Summer St. NE Suite 100,â€¨ Salem, OR 97301-1279). Their public comment period has technically ended, but we are the government, and we will decide when we voice our opinion.
For a stronger statement, it’s not difficult to get a group together, bring banners and signs, and show your displeasure in public. If you aren’t afraid to get arrested, you can even do this in the port’s restricted, sensitive business areas––and let me know if this is your plan; I’ll be right there with you. You can go at any time, but if the permit goes through and conversion of the port begins, this direct action will need to become our plan of attack.