A coalition of local environmental groups has petitioned the Louisiana Department of Natural Resources to reverse its decision last month to once again give RAM Terminals a permit for a proposed coal export facility in Plaquemines Parish.
The groups said the terms of a 2015 court ruling that struck down an earlier permit weren’t met in the company’s second application.
The 15-page petition, sent to DNR Secretary Thomas Harris last week on behalf of the Sierra Club’s Delta Chapter, the Gulf Restoration Network and the Louisiana Environmental Action Network, asks Harris to reconsider the coastal-use permit issued by his agency’s Office of Coastal Management.
A coastal-use permit is required from DNR anytime a project will have a significant impact on coastal areas. All sides agree that the proposed coal export facility in Myrtle Grove near Ironton would have an impact on a planned nearby sediment-diversion project for coastal restoration.
DNR first granted the RAM Terminals facility a permit in September 2013, but a state district judge nullified it in December 2014, saying, among other things, that the company didn’t show that it had considered alternative sites or explain why they weren’t good enough.
About a week before granting the permit on March 30, the Office of Coastal Management informed RAM Terminals that its reapplication had satisfied all requirements, noting that RAM had followed its instructions and used 10 criteria to evaluate six other sites.
The environmental groups’ petition said RAM was required to show why sites with a smaller negative environmental footprint were not feasible. Instead, the groups said, the company examined only potential sites that would have a greater negative impact and that it did so by assuming every acre of wetlands in the alternatives could not be mitigated, an assumption it did not make with the site it wants.
The petition lists other court-ordered requirements it said the new application did not meet:
It says RAM Terminals did not adequately address whether other materials besides coal could be transported to the facility.
It says the application did not include further justification for rail access, which RAM listed as a necessity despite saying elsewhere in the application that coal would rarely, if ever, be moved by rail to the site.
It says RAM has not tried to analyze whether the project would be feasible without rail. “This is precisely the circular reasoning the 25th Judicial District Court rejected in its 2014 order,” the petition states.
It says the application did not provide a market analysis to show a third coal terminal is needed in the area.
The Office of Coastal Management’s March letter, however, suggests it would disagree on at least some of those points.
The letter says the company did submit a market analysis that showed sufficient demand for coal and that RAM cited wood pellets, fertilizer and petroleum coke as coal alternatives that could be sent to the facility.
DNR spokesman Patrick Courreges said the department still is formulating a response to the petition.
Environmental groups say they oppose the facility for a host of reasons, including its impact on the Mid-Barataria Sediment Diversion project; its impact on the air quality of surrounding communities, which they say already has been degraded by other area coal facilities; and the impact that incoming coal trains would have on other West Bank neighborhoods through which they would travel.
The facility has other regulatory hurdles yet to clear.
Follow Chad Calder on Twitter, @Chad_Calder.