Amber Powell

Protesters confront Ambre Energy (Credit: Spring Allen/Rainforest Action Network) 

Protesters confront Ambre Energy (Credit: Spring Allen/Rainforest Action Network) 

The Pacific Northwest is a prime location for coal and oil exports (See Asian Energy). But as many big energy companies are coming to realize, the Pacific Northwest is also a prime location for opposition to such projects. 

The Pacific Northwest, "Where energy projects go to die.

With strong movements like The Thin Green Line and We are the Red Line, people in the Pacific Northwest are taking a stand against expanding the fossil fuel industry. 

Coal and Oil Projects in the PNW 

"Since 2012, a staggering number of schemes have proposed to move large volumes of carbon-intense fuels through Oregon, Washington, and British Columbia to Asian markets...But in big ways and small—from Coos Bay, Oregon, to Prince Rupert, British Columbia...big energy projects have faced delays, uncertainty, mounting costs…and then failure" (De Place & Gruen). 

Prince Rupert Port Authority: Ridley Coal Terminal Expansion (Prince Rupert, BC)

In 2011, Ridley Terminals began an expansion project to increase the volume of coal moving through their facilities from 12 million tons per year to 24 million tons per year. But after strong opposition and dropping coal prices, Ridley has instead scaled back its production levels to between 4 and 6 million tons per year. In 2014 the expansion project was put on hold for up to five years (De Place & Gruen). 

Port Metro Vancouver: Fraser Surrey Docks (Surrey, BC)

In June of 2012, Fraser Surrey Docks applied for permits to start building a coal export terminal at the Port of Vancouver that would move 8 million tons of coal per year to Asian markets. Opponents of the project requested a report be conducted of health and environmental impacts. The report took over two years to complete and successfully delayed the project during that time. Although the project is still pushing to move forward, it faces local opposition, litigation, and a race against time with declining coal prices. 

 SSA Marine: Gateway Pacific Terminal (Ferndale, WA)  

In February 2011, SSA Marine applied for permits to build Gateway Pacific Terminal--a massive terminal with the capacity to move 48 million tons of coal per year through its facility located at Cherry Point in Ferndale, Washington. There is wide opposition to the project, most notably coming from Lummi Nation, a local tribe with treaty and fishing rights at Cherry Point dating back to 1855 (See Ferndale/Cherry Point; Lummi & Coal).  

After a barrage of delays, SSA Marine suspended its environmental review process as the US Army Corps of Engineers makes a decision about Lummi Nation's treaty rights. Learn more about the project in this short video.  In May 2016, the Army Corps of Engineers rejected Cherry Point coal terminal as a violation of Lummi treaty rights to fish (See here for more info). 

Ambre Energy: Millennium Bulk Terminals (Longview, WA)

"After Ambre Energy proposed in November 2010 to build an export terminal that could move 5 million tons of coal annually from Longview, a legal challenge unearthed documents showing that the Australian company actually intended to move 40 to 60 million tons—a serious public relations black eye for the project. The company regrouped and then submitted official permit applications in February 2012" (De Place & Gruen). 

The Millennium Bulk Terminals project has faced strong opposition as well. Delays have been prominent, with a draft environmental statement released in late April, 2016. Originally, Ambre Energy hoped to see the start of operations in 2014, but pending approval, the earliest feasible date would be sometime in 2017 (See Longview Oil and Coal). In 2016, Arch Coal dropped the project.

To learn more about this project or its timeline, stay up to date at the Washington State Department of Ecology's website

Ambre Energy: Morrow Pacific Project (Boardman and Clatskanie, OR)

In 2012, Ambre Energy also proposed a coal barging project that would transport 8 million tons per year of coal through the Columbia River region in Oregon. The project was fiercely opposed by local residents, environmental groups, and nearby tribes such as the Umatilla. The permit application was outright denied by Oregon state regulators in August 2014, noting the project to be in violation of Columbia River tribes' treaty rights and access to fishing. Regulators stated the project was "not consistent with the protection, conservation and best use of the state’s water resources" (Davis, 2014).

According to Sightline Institute,

"Ambre Energy appealed the decision in September 2014, but the US Army Corps of Engineers suspended its permitting review of the project in the same month. (The Oregon Transportation Commission also twice killed subsidies for the project.) Virtually all observers believe the project is dead" (De Place & Gruen). 

RailAmerica: Coal Terminal (Hoquiam, WA)

RailAmerica officially proposed a coal terminal project at the Port of Grays Harbor in Hoquiam, Washington in July 2011. Due to financial concerns, local opposition, and other port concerns, the company informed Port commissioners the project was no longer moving forward in August of 2012. 

Metro Ports: Project Mainstay (Coos Bay, OR)

Another coal terminal project was proposed in July of 2011 for Coos Bay on the southern Oregon coast. The initial plan was to have the terminal operational by 2017, but after investors backed out of the deal, Metro Ports allowed its agreement with the port to expire in April of 2013, effectively ending Project Mainstay. 

Power Past Coal, a northwest alliance against West Coast coal exports, attributed the project bail out to the "mounting opposition from local communities, health professionals, businesses and elected officials, as well as fluctuating markets for coal" (Stewart). 

Kinder Morgan: Port Westward Coal Terminal (Clatskanie, OR)

Kinder Morgan announced plans for a coal export terminal on the Columbia River near Clatskanie, Oregon in June 2011. The terminal would move in two phases, the first operating at a capacity of 15 million tons of coal per year, and the second phase bringing in an additional 15 million tons annually. The project was opposed by local communities, officials, and environmental organizations, including Columbia RIverkeeper and Governor John Kitzhaber. 

Sightline Institute exposed Kinder Morgan for its poor track record with coal dust issues in other areas. According to their website: 

"Kinder Morgan’s plans relied on subleasing land for the terminal from Portland General Electric (PGE), an Oregon utility, in a Port-owned energy park, but PGE rejected the proposal in May 2012 over concerns about coal dust. This proved to be the beginning of the end for Kinder Morgan’s Northwest coal export dreams. In May 2013, the firm announced it could not find a suitable site in the area, scrapping plans for a $150 million terminal" (DePlace & Druen).
Poster designed for Break Free PNW--a movement against fossil fuels (Credit: Mona Caron) 

Poster designed for Break Free PNW--a movement against fossil fuels (Credit: Mona Caron) 


Shell: East Gate Rail Project (Anacortes, WA)

Shell Puget Sound Refinery is an active oil refinery in operation at March Point in Anacortes, Washington since the 1950s. In 2014, Shell moved to expand its facilities to receive oil by rail shipments (See Anacortes Oil). The East Gate Rail Project proposal was not well received by local communities, organizations, nor the Swinomish Tribe.  Swinomish is actively suing rail company BNSF over treaty rights and an agreement relating to rail traffic in the area (See Swinomish & Oil). 

After a series of litigation, Shell is working with the Washington Department of Ecology and Skagit County officials to conduct an Environmental Impact Statement on the potential harm the project could impose on the environment  and local populations. The project has already been delayed, and further delays are expected. 

To stay up to date with this project, visit ShellrailEIS.com 

How to Fight Back

(Credit: Credo Action)

(Credit: Credo Action)

There are three major components in fighting back against fossil fuels and big energy corporations: Political, Financial, and Grassroots Movements. 

"It is imperative that as a community, the Pacific Northwest maintains the momentum and success we have achieved so far. We are part of 'The Thin Green Line' and we are the only defense between fossil fuels being shipped across seas" (Sarah Lal, 2015).

Politically, federal and local policies, regulations, and mandates can greatly affect which projects are allowed to operate and at what level. In terms of litigation, environmental organizations and law offices are a huge part of delaying major projects and sometimes halting them all together. 

A great example of this is Portland, Oregon, which recently passed the strongest resolution against fossil fuels in the US. The city's resolution legally opposes any new infrastructure that would transport or store fossil fuels within the city or its adjacent waterways. This is a huge movement and serves as a potential avenue for more cities to follow suit with their own policy changes (Geiling). 

Grassroots movements are also integral to fighting big energy companies (See Environmentalists). Grassroots approaches are often centered around health, the environment, and climate awareness. Activism plays a huge role in communities organizing to protect themselves against large, harmful fossil fuel projects. Tactics vary from petitioning to protesting and physically blockading projects from moving forward (Moyer).

If financial gain is the driving force behind the expansion of fossil fuels, financial loss is the brakes. Hit them where it counts, right in the pockets. Delaying projects costs companies tons of money, often pushing plans so far off track, the project is abandoned due to financial losses. In addition to delaying projects, finances also come into play when market values are fluctuating. Coal is currently losing billions of dollars due to decreased use here in the US and abroad, most notably in China, which has already affected multiple coal projects in the Pacific Northwest. 

"The U.S. coal industry is hoping to find salvation in Asian markets, but that continues to look less likely, even aside from problems building coal-export terminals. The Chinese government responding to its own citizens’ concerns over smog and climate change, announced earlier this month that it will ban all coal use in Beijing by 2020. And in June, just after the Obama administration unveiled its later power-plant rules, China announced that it plans to impose a cap on greenhouse gas emissions. Even in an authoritarian country where economic growth is a top priority, the coal industry is finding that citizens and their government prefer to be free of the air and climate pollution that coal causes" (Adler, 2014).

The time to fight is now. We do not have to let these harmful corporations continue their destruction of our earth. We have momentum and logic on our side. Even large corporations and countries like China are seeing that fossil fuels are not worth the harm they cause to life and the environment. Let's continue to fight back and let the list of defeated oil and coal terminals grow indefinitely! 


Adler, B. (2014, August 14). Another coal export terminal bites the dust. The Grist. 

Bagley, K. (2015, January 12). Losing streak continues for U.S. coal export terminals. Inside Climate News. 

Baker, D. (2015). The Thin Green Line. [video].  

Davis, R. (2014, August 14). Oregon Department of State Lands rejects Ambre Energy coal export permit, dealing major blow. The Oregonian. 

Davis, R. (2015, November 3). Portland's mayor: Big fossil fuel projects? Just say no. The Oregonian. 

De Place, E. & Gruen, D. (2015, August 18). The Thin Green Line is stopping coal and oil in their tracks. Sightline Institute. 

Geiling, N. (2015, November 13). This Northwest city just passed the strongest resolution against fossil fuels in the country. Think Progress. 

McGovern, T. (2014, November 2). Environmental groups defeat proposed Kinder Morgan export plant at Port Westward, Oregon. Global Nonviolent Action Database. 

Moyer, J. (2015, July 30). Shell No!: Dangling from a bridge to stop Arctic drilling. Washington Post.  

Stewart, B. (2013, April 1). Last remaining investor bails out on Coos Bay coal export plan. Oregon Public Broadcasting. 

Williams-Derry, C. (2015, October 30). Coal exports and the terrible, horrible, no good, very bad week. Sightline Institute.