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Take a hard look at salesman before falling for coal export pitch

Posted by suzanne at Oct 30, 2012 03:15 PM |

The next time a traveling coal company salesman comes to your door asking you to “buy today, don’t delay”, ask for their credentials. These are huge projects, with gigantic impacts on our communities, our region and our globe

Take a hard look at salesman before falling for coal export pitch

Ross Macfarlane, Sr. Advisor, Business Partnerships

By Ross Macfarlane
Climate Solutions


The public comment period ends tomorrow, October 31.  Please make your voice heard today.

Trust. It’s a fundamental value when doing business. You need to trust the other party—their character, their record and the product they are selling if you are going to buy the product or enter into the deal. Our country is rich with a tradition of door-to-door sales. While we might not have a plethora of vacuum cleaner salesmen roaming our neighborhoods anymore, Washington and Oregon have a new fast-talking start-up coming into town from across the ocean, promising jobs and economic development.    But the devil is in the details and this is a deal we cannot trust. 

We are facing proposals for as many as five  coal export terminals which would ship more than 150 million tons of the dirty fuel per year. The coal industry has now launched prime-time ads claiming we need to act quickly to approve all these projects or miss out on a promised boom of economic prosperity.

There are a host of reasons that have led dozens of communities and elected leaders to urge a close look at all the impacts before we buy what they are selling.  Traffic congestion and possible coal-train derailments in rail-line communities. Coal dust, increased diesel emissions and other health and safety impacts. Conflicts with other shippers and local businesses. Risks to coastal and Columbia River communities and environments from massive increases of tanker and barge traffic . Further fueling global warming. 

But we have heard little about the companies pushing these schemes.  Most people take at face value that these are solid companies with long track records. A closer look reveals that the salesmen, as well as the plan they are peddling, deserve strict scrutiny as it’s starting to smell like snake oil.

Take Ambre Energy.  This Australian start-up company is behind two of the proposals on the fastest track: the Morrow-Pacific rail-barge-ship proposal at the Ports of Morrow and St. Helens in Oregon, and the huge Millenium proposal across the Columbia River at Longview, Washington.  Did you know:

  • The Australian (the leading financial paper down under) recently described Ambre as a “small-time” operator “on the verge of financial collapse.” This story was based on very dire reports from Ambre’s own accountant and its own assessment of Ambre’s viability.
  • Ambre’s only project in Australia (an expensive and risky coal mine and coal-to-liquids plant), has been turned down by the state government of Queensland after massive opposition from local farmers.
  • Coal industry giant Cloud Peak, who owns 50% of one of Ambre’s only US operating assets, the Decker Mine, has sued Ambre for mismanagement, self-dealing, and deceptive behavior. Cloud Peak has asserted that Ambre is unilaterally charging ahead to get more coal from a played-out mine that is slated for closure and reclamation, based on a speculative export scheme. 
  • Ambre concealed key information in its first efforts to permit the Longview facility, hiding its plans to build a terminal 8-10 times larger than originally proposed.
  • Ambre rammed through its lease agreement with the Port of St. Helens in complete secrecy, not allowing any public review or comment until the evening of the commission vote.

These are just a few highlights. Based on the available information, it clear that the public and decision makers should look twice before buying what Ambre is selling.  Currently, the company  is mounting a full court press to get the Army Corps of Engineers and the State of Oregon to issue permits for the Morrow-Pacific Project without any real environmental review or opportunity for public comment.  Ambre has also been trumpeting contracts with local barge manufacturers, barely noting in the fine print that they are subject to financing and permitting.  With Ambre’s meager track record and cloudy prospects, the company seems desperate to get a quick decision on its permits so that it can sell investors on its plans and stave off financial collapse.

So the next time a traveling coal company salesman comes to your door asking you to “buy today, don’t delay”, ask for their credentials. These are huge projects, with gigantic impacts on our communities, our region and our globe. At minimum, we should have a very clear idea who is promoting these deals, what are the risks, and who stands to profit. The Northwest has a long history of problems left in the wake of companies who promise the moon and fail to deliver. Let’s make sure we're not headed towards the same dead-end with these coal companies.

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