The state Department of Natural Resources has agreed to reconsider a permit it granted to a planned coal export terminal in Plaquemines Parish, saying environmental groups have raised important questions about how much rail activity the facility would generate.
DNR’s Office of Coastal Management in April approved a request from a company called RAM Terminals for a coastal use permit for the terminal, drawing a petition for reconsideration from the Sierra Club’s Delta Chapter, the Gulf Restoration Network and the Louisiana Environmental Action Network, all of which oppose the facility.
DNR Secretary Thomas Harris said in a letter last week that his agency will ask the Kentucky-based company to answer several questions in light of three reports — one from the U.S. Energy Information Agency — submitted by the environmental groups that predict a significant downturn in the demand for U.S. coal exports.
First, the agency wants to know how much the site will depend on rail-delivered coal. Rail access was cited by the company as being of major importance, but it went on to say in its application that almost all of the coal will be brought in by barge.
DNR wants to know whether having rail access to the site is important for coal deliveries or if RAM wants it only to bring in other materials during downturns in the coal market.
The agency’s letter says that while RAM maintains it can’t tell what other materials it might need to move to the facility by rail, it should at least be able to say at what price it would need to look beyond coal and what the maximum amount of rail activity would be.
DNR also wants those factors applied to the alternative sites RAM was required to analyze in its application for the coastal use permit, which DNR considers for any industrial project that will have an impact on coastal areas.
The environmental groups have been fighting against the terminal since it was first proposed, saying the communities of Ironton and Myrtle Grove already suffer enough from pollution by nearby coal facilities.
The groups also say the coal export terminal would harm a major sediment diversion project for wetlands restoration in the area.
They have galvanized opposition from West Bank communities through which coal trains would need to travel.
DNR already granted RAM Terminal a coastal use permit, but a state district judge nullified it in late 2014, agreeing with environmental groups that the company hadn’t showed it had considered alternative sites or explained why they weren’t good enough.
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