Coal exports from ports on the west coast of Canada and the United States

From Global Energy Monitor

Coal terminals on the Pacific Coast of the Northwest United States play a critical role in the US coal supply chain. Coal mined in the Powder River Basin, the largest source of coal in the US, must be transported through the Pacific Northwest before being exported to Asia.

As of September 2021, the only ports handling coal in the Pacific Northwest are the Port of Stockton (2 million tonnes per annum (mtpa)) and the Levin-Richmond Terminal (1 million mtpa), both along the Sacramento River in California, and the Ridley Terminal (18 mtpa) and Westshore Terminals (33 mtpa) in British Columbia, Canada.

Nine proposals for additional coal export facilities in the Pacific Northwest, which would have added at least 133 million tonnes of additional annual coal-handling capacity, have been cancelled since 2010, dealing a major blow to the viability of coal mining operations in the US interior.


The map below shows the locations of all proposed and operating coal terminals on the west coast of Canada and the United States. The Ridley Terminals are much further north than any of the other terminals in the region.

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Proposed coal ports

Proposed ports for coal exports to Asia, along with proposed capacity in million tonnes per annum (mtpa) and status, as of September 2021:

  • Coyote Island Terminal (8 mtpa) in Morrow, Oregon - Sponsor withdrew application in November 2016
  • Gateway Pacific Terminal (48 mtpa) in Cherry Point, Washington - Sponsor withdrew application in February 2017
  • Millennium Bulk Logistics Longview Terminal (44 mtpa) in Longview, Washington - Washington state denied key water quality permit in September 2017, project cancelled in 2021
  • Port of Coos Bay in Coos Bay, Oregon - proponents let lease agreement expire
  • Port of Grays Harbor in Aberdeen, Washington - RailAmerica cancelled its proposal
  • Port of Oakland (5.5 mtpa) in Oakland, California - Oakland City Council passed ban on coal handling; original project sponsor bankrupt in 2020, project unlikely to proceed
  • Port Westward (22mtpa) in St Helens, Oregon - Kinder Morgan pulled its proposal
  • Richmond Port (6 mtpa) in Richmond, California - Richmond City Council passed ban on transport of coal and petcoke
  • Vancouver Port in Vancouver, Washington state - In 2019, Port of Vancouver commissioners voted 2 to 1 to "not pursue new bulk fossil fuel terminals on port-owned industrial property"

In addition, the Richmond City Council ordered the Levin-Richmond Terminal to cease its coal-handling operations by 2023, although that ordinance has been challenged in court.

Northwest ports to be used to export Powder River Basin coal to Asian markets

In 2010 coal companies began announcing plans for coal export terminals on the western coast to ship coal to growing markets in Asia (see map above for list of proposed terminals). Trains would originate primarily in the Powder River Basin. Plans were met with widespread grassroots opposition. By May 2013, of six coal export terminals originally proposed in the US Pacific Northwest, projects at Grays Harbor and St. Helens had been withdrawn, and a project at Coos Bay shelved. Developers are still exploring or seeking permits for terminals in Boardman, Oregon, Longview, Washington, and at Cherry Point near Bellingham, Washington.[1]


Coal Export Threatens the Northwest.

In September 2010 Peabody Energy announced that "Coal's best days are ahead." Peabody stated that exports of coal from the Powder River Basin in Montana and Wyoming will be central to its expansion goals. The Oregonian in September 2010 reported that Northwest ports, and in particular ports in Portland, Oregon, may be used in the future to export coal to Asia. The Port of Portland said it doesn't have the space for coal exports in the short-term, but its consultants cited coal as a potential long-term market if it adds terminals on West Hayden Island.

In early November 2010 Australia-based Ambre Energy asked Cowlitz County officials in southern Washington State, which borders Oregon, to approve a port redevelopment that would allow for the export of 5 million tons of coal annually. On November 23 Cowlitz County officials approved the permit for the port redevelopment, which is to be located at the private Chinook Ventures port in Longview, Washington. Coal terminals also are proposed at two other sites along the Columbia River.[2]

Environmentalists stated that they would oppose any such actions, arguing that coal contributes to pollution and global warming.[3] Early discussion of how many jobs the port would produce was roughly twenty total.[4] Early discussion of how many jobs the port would produce was roughly twenty total.[5]

In November 2010 Powder River Basin coal producer Cloud Peak Energy CEO Colin Marshall stated that a coal port on the West Coast was "absolutely more than a pipedream."

Other Powder River Basin producers, including top US coal miner Peabody Energy, have talked about the potential for a new export facility on the West Coast, with Oregon being mentioned as the top location of choice.[6]

Groups including the Sierra Club and Columbia Riverkeeper have vowed to stop the industry's expansion into Asia, a market currently dominated by coal from Australia and Indonesia.[7]

Proposed Northwest Coal Export Locations.

In May 2011 Arch Coal announced that it was establishing a new subsidiary, Arch Coal Asia-Pacific Pte. Ltd., and named Renato Paladino president. A press release stated that Paladino will be responsible for Asia-Pacific regional business development, marketing and sales of thermal and metallurgical products, and regional supply chain expansion for the company. The new office will be located in Singapore.[8]

In June 2011 it was announced that Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer would be traveling to China to promote Montana wheat, beef, tourism and energy with an emphasis on coal. Schweitzer stated that there's potential for more Montana coal to be shipped to energy-hungry China in the coming years.[9]

Keith White, director of GE Energy’s coal gasification business in the United States stated in September 2011, "We make a majority of our money in China today. They use their coal for quality high-end products." White said that leaders in Wyoming should continue their support of coal-gasification and keep in mind the need to expand to additional markets like plastics and other refined products. He noted that a high volume of coal in China is refined into liquid byproducts "such as naphtha, and other products that are the feedstock of plastics and the Chinese garment industry."[10]

It was announced in June 2012 that U.S. coal companies were looking to boost exports through the Gulf of Mexico after meeting resistance to West Coast port expansions. Kinder Morgan Energy Partners stated that the company planned on expanding their terminals in the Gulf and the Southeast, including its Shipyard River operation in Charleston, South Carolina. Kinder announced they were planning to spend $200 million to boost capacity at the location to 8 million tons a year from 2.5 million. The project is set to be completed by 2015.[11]

EPA: coal export projects could have 'significant' public health impacts

In April 2012 the EPA stated that they desired a thorough review of the consequences of coal export through Northwest ports, staying the first project in the pipeline -- at the Port of Morrow -- "has the potential to significantly impact human health and the environment." The EPA's letter to the Army Corps of Engineers stated they wanted a "thorough and broadly scoped" environmental review. Potential problems include health impacts from coal dust and diesel emissions on train and barge trips through the Columbia River Gorge and the effects of ozone, particulates and mercury returning on trade winds after coal is burned in Asia.[12]

Citizen action

March 2011: Protesters rally in Salt Lake against coal export plan

Coal Train Visits Bank of America.

Rainforest Action Network along with Peaceful Uprising, Utah Moms for Clean Air and the International Brotherhood of Boilermakers organized a 60 person rally in from of the office of coal exporter Ambre Energy asking them to stop their development of coal export facilities in Longview, Washington.

Jim Cooksey, a representative of the union, stated of the export plan:

“We are concerned about the exporting of coal to overseas markets in that there are no environmental standards once the coal leaves our borders. The International Brotherhood of Boilermakers understands the issue of climate change and is looking to secure alliances with other labor and environmental organizations to find solutions that protect workers and the environment.“[13]

April 2011: Washington college students say no to coal export plans

On April 22, 2011 Evergreen University students in Olympia celebrated Earth Day by delivering over 7,000 petition signatures gathered by Rainforest Action Network and Washington PIRG to Gov. Chris Gregoire’s office. The petition called on Gregoire to be a clean energy leader and stop coal exports in the northwest. The group also delivered a letter signed by student government associations from campuses all over Washington asking Gregoire to act on the coal exports.[14]

May 2011: Protests target banks in Portland, Oregon

On Friday, May 9th, 2011 two bank branches in downtown Portland, Oregon, one belonging to Bank of America and the other to Wells Fargo, were targeted by approximately 30 activists who showed up to protest the banks’ investments in coal projects. Both banks are major lenders to Arch Coal, the second biggest coal company in the United States. Arch Coal was targeted because, along with Ambre Energy, it is responsible for the proposed Millennium Bulk Logistics Longview Terminal near Longview, Washington. Arch Coal also owns the Otter Creek coal mine in Montana, which the company hopes to use as a source of coal to be exported.

Protesters assembled by Portland's Reed College entered the banks as mock coal export trains, which they believed will expose Northwest residents to coal dust, diesel fumes and noise pollution if the coal export facility near Longview becomes operational. A multi-car human ”coal train” entered the banks and marched around the bank's lobby, temporarily disrupting business inside. Climate activists chanted “Hey hey, B of A: Stop investing in coal today!” And later, “Hey hey, Wells Fargo: You say coal, we say no!”[15]

September 2011: Activists shine a light on Washington Coal Ports in Seattle

In September 2011 activists in Seattle shined a spotlight with a mountain background that stated, "Keep Washington Beautiful, No Coal Exports." The group, including at least on RAN activist, shined the stenciled spotlight on iconic images around the city, including the Space Needle. The group said they were protesting the proposed coal export terminals in the state, including Millennium Bulk Logistics Longview Terminal in Longview and Gateway Pacific Terminal near Ferndale, Washington.[16]

October 2011: Spokane environmentalists upset over coal trains

In October 2011 concerned environmental groups in the Spokane, Washington area held a public forum about coal trains in that are to travel through the area. The groups began speaking out about proposals that could see dozens of trains loaded with coal destined for Asia move through the city every day. The groups fear that coal dust and increased diesel emissions will damage human health, while increased rail traffic will make for more dangerous intersections.[17] The Sierra Club was involved in raising public awareness and organizing the forum.[18]

November 2011: 13 State Senators ask State to look at coal train impacts

In November 2011, 13 Washington State Senators wrote a joint letter to the Washington State DOE and Whatcom County. In their letter the senators point to potential problems including health related and adverse economic impacts that could be felt by the communities along the rail corridor which includes most of the states population. The senators explicitly request that the process examine these issues.[19]

December 2011: Montana youth call for a week of anti-coal export actions

In December 2011, students at the University of Montana called for a week of actions against coal in Missoula to occur in February 2012. For the blog "It's Getting Hot in Here", Nick Engelfried wrote:

"We, youth climate activists at the University of Montana, are calling for a regional weekend of action to protect the greater Northwest from coal exports. The action will coincide with the weekend of Rocky Mountain Power Shift, February 17th-19th. That weekend, hundreds of youth climate activists will converge on the University of Montana campus to exchange success stories, hear from movement leaders, learn from each other, and take action to promote solutions to climate change.

"On Sunday, Feb 19th, we will march through downtown Missoula to protest an increase in coal exports (this action is not officially endorsed by Power Shift in any way). We will draw attention to key politicians and industries who are financing and pushing coal export proposals."[20]

April 2012: Oregon Gov. calls for review of coal export impacts

In April 2012 Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber stated that he wants an extensive federal government review of exporting coal to Asia through Northwest ports. The Governor said that coal exports could clog barge and train routes, increase diesel and coal dust pollution and boost amounts of toxic mercury drifting back to Oregon when Asian countries burn the coal.

However, Kitzhaber didn't take a stand for or against exporting coal, which supporters say would increase rural jobs and tax revenues in Oregon and Washington. Instead, his letter asked the federal government to address how increasing exports to Asia will "fit with the larger strategy of moving to a lower carbon future."[21]

May 2012: Activists rally in Portland against exporting coal from Northwest ports

On May 7, 2012 several hundred activists gathered in Portland's Pioneer Courthouse Square to oppose the export of Montana and Wyoming coal from Northwest ports. Activist Robert F. Kennedy Jr., chief prosecuting attorney for Hudson Riverkeeper and president of the Waterkeeper Alliance, spoke to the crowd. Kennedy said that coal would corrupt politicians, damage health and the environment and "turn government agencies into the sock puppets of the industries they're supposed to regulate."[22]

May 2012: Seattle City Council opposes coal export ports

On May 29, 2012 the Seattle City Council unanimously passed a resolution opposing the development of coal-export terminals in Washington state after raising concerns about increased train traffic and potential harm to health and the environment. The coal would be mined in the Powder River Basin[23]

May 2012: Washington state Democrats pass export resolutions

In May 2012 Democrats in Washington passed two resolutions on coal exports in the state. One, submitted by San Juan County, asked Democrats to oppose construction of the Gateway Pacific Terminal at Cherry Point. The second passed which called for a programmatic environmental impact statement to be conducted to study the potential impacts of building coal-exporting terminals throughout the Pacific Northwest, rather than one project-specific study looking at the Gateway Pacific Terminal project.[24]

July 2012: Northwest coal train traffic could spike, foes warn

On July 11, 2012 the Western Organization of Resource Councils released a report which stated that roughly 60 coal trains per day could potentially pass through cities including Billings, Montana and Spokane, Wash. Smaller increases would be seen in Seattle, Portland and other major cities across the region.

The group contested that this could tie up rail lines, cause environmental problems and leave local governments on the hook for costly rail crossing improvements.[25]

August 2012: Coal protesters occupy state Capitol to protest proposed coal mine set to export

Coal Export Action: Reclaim the Rotunda

On August 13, 2012 protesters opposed to coal development in Montana occupied the state Capitol in Helena, the first day of a week-long protest aimed at elected officials to push them to block future development leases.

The protesters, led by a Missoula based group called the Blue Skies Campaign, billed the "Coal Export Action sit-in" as a non-violent protest. The group hopes to convince the Montana Land Board to reject development of coal in eastern Montana's Otter Creek, or at a minimum delay action on the issue while more studies are undertaken. Seven activists were initially arrested but others vowed to continue their actions. However, by the end of the first week of protest a total of 23 activists were arrested.[26][27][28]

October 2012: Jobs vs. environment in Eugene coal train debate

In early October 2012 dozens of coal-train protesters on Monday evening marched to the downtown library, where the City Council heard testimony on a resolution against shipping coal through a Port of Coos Bay terminal to Asia. During the meeting a number of people spoke in favor of the measure, expressing concerns about coal dust and climate change. But the council also heard from supporters, others spoke in favor of job creation from the terminal. The council is set to vote by the end of October 2012 on the measure. On October 22, 2012 the city council of Eugene passed a resolution 5-3 opposing the coal trains.[29][30]

Industry action

In July 2012 a new trade group alliance was formed and included the three largest coal mining companies in the West. The group, called Alliance for Northwest Jobs & Exports, rolled out a campaign with television, radio and print ads to support exporting coal from Northwest ports.

The group is made of up 22 members including coal terminal developers, railroads, business and union groups as well as the three largest mining companies in the Powder River Basin: Peabody Energy, Arch Coal and Cloud Peak Energy.[31]

Railroad issues

Coal train spill through Columbia River Gorge

In July 2012 a train transporting coal derailed and spilled 31 cars of coal in the Eastern Washington town of Mesa, near the Oregon border in Franklin County. Opponents of increased coal shipments through the Northwest pointed to the spill as an example of the risk posed by increased coal transports through the region.[32][33]

RailAmerica owns the Puget Sound and Pacific Railroad that serves Grays Harbor. The port's potential coal export terminal, located on a former log yard, could bring another 75 ship calls a year to Grays Harbor.[34]

Total CO2 emissions of Alberta's tar sands versus U.S. coal exports

In 2011, the group Sightline calculated the carbon dioxide emissions from U.S. coal exports versus Alberta's tar sands, and found projected emissions from coal exports to be substantially higher (the estimate did not count the emissions associated with mining, transport, construction, or any other related activities, nor any non-CO2 or fugitive emissions, to allow for a more simple, straightforward comparison.)

Coal exports: The calculation assumed that 110 million tons of Powder River Basin coal are exported each year, consistent with the 60 million tons planned for the Millennium Bulk Logistics Longview Terminal and the 50 million for Gateway Pacific Terminal at Cherry Point, Washington (this is probably a low estimate: Longview project sponsors have been found using an 80 million ton figure, and there are talks of other Coal exports from ports on the west coast of Canada and the United States, such as Grays Harbor, Washington; St. Helens, Oregon; and Coos Bay, Oregon.) The estimate assumed that Powder River Basin coal generates 8,500 BTUs per pound, and that one million BTUs would produce 212.7 pounds of CO2, consistent with U.S. Department of Energy figures. The final calculation was 199 million tons of CO2 per year in “direct” emissions from the coal exports

Tar sands: To calculate the CO2 emissions from the Keystone XL Pipeline, it was assumed that the pipeline moved 830,000 barrels of oil per day, in line with U.S. State Department figures, working out to about 303 million barrels per year. It was then assumed that each barrel of oil contains 0.43 metric tons of C02, which the U.S. EPA assigns for an “average” barrel of oil (direct emissions from burning are the same regardless if it's oil or tar sands), which works out to about 144 million short tons of CO2 per year for direct emissions from burning the oil. To account for the particular crudeness of tar sands oil, the emissions that are associated with extracting and processing it for use were factored using figures from David Strahan, Wikipedia, and other sources; it was assumed that extracting the oil and “upgrading” to make it suitable for refining results in somewhere around 18 to 26 percent more carbon emissions than the direct emissions from burning the fuel itself. A mid-point of that range, 21.7 percent, was used, and added up to 31 million tons of CO2, for a combined direct and indirect emissions total of 175 million short tons of CO2 per year for the pipeline oil.[35]



  1. Kim Murphy, "Plans shelved for coal export terminal in Oregon," LA Times, May 8, 2013.
  2. "Cowlitz County approves permits to export coal to Asia from port in Longview, Wash." Scott Lean, The Oregonian, November 23, 2010.
  3. "Mining companies aim to export coal to China through Northwest ports" Scott Learn, Oregonian, September 8, 2010.
  4. "Strategic withdrawal for Longview coal exporter" Joel Connelly, Seattle Post Intelligencer, March 15, 2011.
  5. "Strategic withdrawal for Longview coal exporter" Joel Connelly, Seattle Post Intelligencer, March 15, 2011.
  6. "'When rather than if' for new West Coast coal port" Liezal Hall,, November 12, 2010.
  7. "Coal Industry Seeks to Export Through Wash. State" Matthew Brown & Phuonge Le, Associated Press, November 16, 2010.
  8. "Arch Coal Establishes Asia-Pacific Subsidiary, Names Paladino President" PR Newswire, May 9, 2011.
  9. "Montana gov. to travel to China on promotion tour" Matt Gouras, Associated Press, June 3, 2011.
  10. [ "GE: Wyoming coal could be converted to shirts" Dustin Bleizeffer, WyoFile, September 16, 2011.
  11. "U.S. Coal Industry Seeks to Boost Exports Through Gulf of Mexico" Mario Parker, Bloomberg, June 22, 2012.
  12. "Northwest coal export projects could have 'significant' public health impacts, EPA says" Scott Learn, The Oregonian, April 13, 2012.
  13. "Protesters rally in SLC against coal-export plan" Brandon Loomis, Salt Lake Tribune, March 22, 2011.
  14. "Washington Youth Say “No” to Coal Exports on Earth Day" Scott Parkin, The Understory, April 22, 2011.
  15. "Coal Train Visits Bank of America and Wells Fargo" Nick Englefried, It's Getting Hot in Here, May 15, 2011.
  16. "Activists Shine A Light On Washington Coal Ports" The Understory, RAN, September 15, 2011.
  17. "Enviro groups upset about coal trains" Associated Press, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, October 26, 2011.
  18. "Group urging Spokane opposition to coal ports" Becky Kramer, The Spokesman-Review, October 26, 2011.
  19. "13 State Senators ask State/Whatcom to expand SEPA Scope" Community Wise Bellingham, November 7, 2011.
  20. "Montana Youth Call for a Weekend of Action Against Coal Exports" Nick Engelfried, It's Getting Hot in Here, December 12, 2011.
  21. "Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber calls for sweeping review of planned coal exports from Northwest ports" Scott Learn, The Oregonian, April 25, 2012.
  22. "Kennedy, activists rally in Portland against exporting coal from Northwest ports" Scott Learn, Oregonian, May 7, 2012.
  23. "Seattle City Council opposes coal-export ports" Phoung Lee, Associated Press, May 30, 2012.
  24. "At state convention, Democrats pass resolutions on coal-exporting terminals" Jared Paben, Bellingham Herald, June 4, 2012.
  25. "Northwest Coal Train Traffic Could Spike, Foes Warn" Matthew Brown, Associated Press, July 11, 2012.
  26. Coal protesters occupy state Capitol" Associated Press, August 13, 2012.
  27. "Coal protesters arrested at capital", August 13, 2012.
  28. "23 Arrested in Fight to Stop Coal Exports" Nick E., August 20, 2012.
  29. "Jobs vs. environment in Eugene coal train debate" Associated Press, October 10, 2012.
  30. "Eugene OKs plastic bag ban, opposes coal trains" Corvallis Gazette Times, October 22, 2012.
  31. "New pro-coal alliance will run television ads promoting coal export from the Northwest" Scott Learn, The Oregonian, July 26, 2012.
  32. "Loaded Coal Train Derails in Columbia River Gorge" National Wildlife Federation, July 3, 2012.
  33. [ "Cleaning up derailed coal in Franklin County town, Associated Press, July 3, 2012.
  34. "Coal export terminal studied at Hoquiam" Associated Press, Seattle Times, July 29, 2011.
  35. Eric de Place, "Coal Exports Are Bigger Threat Than Tar Sands Pipeline: A carbon comparison of Northwest coal plans and Keystone XL project" Sightline, November 16, 2011.

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