Just weeks after environmental groups persuaded elected officials in Jefferson Parish to ask for a public hearing on the potential impact of a proposed coal export facility in neighboring Plaquemines Parish, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has said it sees no point in holding one.
The Corps, which is considering the permit application filed by RAM Terminals, said Wednesday that it is denying the request for a hearing that has been sought for months by a coalition of environmental groups.
“To have a hearing, we have to have a high confidence that new information is going to be provided,” Corps spokesman Ricky Boyett said, adding that the Corps evaluated the reasons given for requesting the hearing. “Those (issues) that are under our regulatory authority, we’re confident they are already under our consideration.”
The Clean Gulf Commerce Coalition responded by saying it will work to put together its own meetings with public officials in the hopes that Corps officials would attend.
While not a surprise, the Corps’ response was a blow to the efforts of anti-coal activists who had recently persuaded the Gretna City Council and Jefferson Parish Council to pass resolutions supporting the request for another hearing.
Getting those resolutions passed took some lobbying over the course of several meetings, although the Westwego City Council passed a resolution quickly and without much debate in June.
Many of the residents’ fears reflect the idea that uncovered coal trains would spew dust and shake houses throughout residential areas on their way to the new terminal, holding up traffic and emergency responders along the way. But concerns also were raised about the potential impact of the terminal in Ironton on the planned Mid-Barataria Sediment Diversion Project nearby.
In yielding to citizen concerns, the Jefferson Parish Council and some members of Gretna’s council cited the hurricane protection issue as their main motivation.
Boyett said the Corps opened the permit application for two months of public comment after RAM applied in March 2012, and that it has considered the comments from concerned residents, local governments and community organizations since then.
The Gulf Restoration Network, however, said new information continues to come to light about the potential impact of the project, and that Kentucky-based Armstrong Coal Co. has expanded the proposed footprint of the export facility since the Corps’ initial public hearing period.
“Scientists with the state of Louisiana have raised serious concerns about how the RAM coal export terminal would impact one of the hallmark projects in Louisiana’s coastal restoration plans,” said Grace Morris, senior organizer with the Gulf Restoration Network. “We’ve already documented instances where restoration projects have been polluted by coal from existing export terminals.”
Boyett said the Corps is taking that potential impact under consideration, and he noted that the proposed terminal’s owner has a memorandum of agreement with the state related to the sediment diversion project.
The coalition, however, is skeptical of the state’s judgment thus far on the RAM terminal proposal. It has filed a lawsuit over the air and water permits the state has already granted to the project.
“The Army Corps wants people to quiet down and let this out-of-state coal company proceed with its dust-spewing trains and polluting coal export terminal,” said Devin Martin, an organizer with the Sierra Club’s anti-coal campaign. “But their refusal to hold a public hearing doesn’t change the fact that Louisianians have a right to voice their serious concerns about this project.”
Boyett disagreed with that characterization.
“We are neither a proponent nor an opponent of any proposed project,” he said. “We have to look at whether the benefits outweigh the detriments.”
The Corps’ decision, which focuses on the project’s impact on wetlands and navigable waterways, is awaiting a wetlands mitigation plan from Armstrong. It has said it does not know when that will come.
Follow Chad Calder on Twitter, @Chad_Calder.