Plaquemines Parish Court Overturns Coastal Permit for Coal Terminal
State Agency “breached its duty as public trustee”
Plaquemines Parish, LA–Community leaders won a major victory against a proposed coal export terminal today when a Plaquemines Parish state court revoked a key permit granted by state environmental regulators. Parish residents have been fighting coal export terminals for years.
Community residents and environmental organizations filed suit against the Louisiana Department of Natural Resources (DNR) for illegally granting a coastal use permit to RAM Terminals, LLC to build a coal export terminal in Plaquemines Parish. Today’s victory spares residents from the air and water pollution, property-value loss and risky coal-train traffic that the coal export facility would bring.
“This is a blow to industry’s plan to put another huge coal terminal right in our backyard – and a blessing for the people who live here,” said Joyce Cornin, among Plaquemines residents who signed the suit. “Our air is already polluted because of two coal terminals. Our kids have asthma, and people here have to use breathing machines. This decision shows that we can beat the people who treat our home like a dumping ground for the coal export industry.”
The coal trains that would be needed to service the RAM terminal have provoked public outcry in nearby Jefferson Parish. Councils in Gretna and Westwego, as well as the Jefferson Parish Council, have passed resolutions against the terminal and its coal trains because of public health and pollution problems as well as concerns about property values and delayed emergency response times.
“We live right next to the tracks, and we don’t want coal trains thundering past our front door,” said Gayle Bertucci, a Gretna resident. “We don’t want the noise, the dirt, tanked property values. And we really don’t want fire trucks and ambulances getting stuck because a mile-long coal train is passing. It’s a recipe for disaster.”
The decision from the 25th Judicial District Court found that the DNR failed to consider alternative locations for the RAM coal terminal, proposed for a site adjacent to one of the state’s major coastal wetlands restoration projects, the Mid-Barataria Sediment Diversion. The ruling found that the DNR violated the Louisiana State Constitution and vacated the permit.
“This is a basically a ruling for common sense,” noted Robert Wiygul, of Waltzer Wiygul & Garside, one of the attorneys who handled the case. “Looking at alternatives to a risky project like this one is a basic protection for citizens, and the DNR needs to take that responsibility seriously.”
The lawsuit was brought by Joyce Cornin and Velma Davis, residents of the Ironton community, as well as Gulf Restoration Network (GRN), the Louisiana Environmental Action Network (LEAN) and Sierra Club, all of which are members of the Clean Gulf Commerce Coalition (CGCC).
“Putting coastal restoration over coal exports is a huge win for coastal communities in Louisiana that depend on coastal wetlands for storm protection” said Grace Morris, senior organizer for GRN. “Coal and petcoke chunks arealready showing up in the sediment that is being used for coastal restoration. And the proposed RAM coal export terminal would throw a wrench in a premier project in the state’s coastal master plan.”
"After years of battling, this decision is a welcome gift for the people of south Louisiana whose air, water, and way of life are threatened by another dirty coal export terminal," said Devin Martin, an organizer with the Sierra Club. "Preserving the unique history, heritage, and natural resources of places like Ironton, Gretna, and our coastal marshes over the short-sighted interests of an out of state coal company is something that we can all agree on. We are glad to see that the state court agrees."
The suit brought attention to a slew of other problems the RAM terminal would create – pollution of the Mississippi River when coal debris drops into the water while being loaded and unloaded from trains and barges, heavy air pollution generated by dust that blows off towering piles of uncovered coal, and contaminated wastewater and storm water that flows from terminals into surrounding wetlands and communities during heavy rain.
“The terminals that operate in Plaquemines Parish are already causing serious pollution problems,” said Marylee Orr, executive director of LEAN. “Aerial photos show coal-polluted water streaming from the terminals into the Lower Mississippi and coal-blackened soil along the riverbanks near the terminals. The judicial court decision is a step in the right direction.”
The suit pointed out that the DNR failed to take into consideration key evidence: a study by state-agency consultants that showed the terminal would undermine the ability of the Myrtle Grove diversion to collect sediment needed to restore the coast.
Today’s decision followed another major win for the growing movement against coal exports. On August 18, Oregon’s Department of State Lands denied a key permit that Ambre Energy needed to build a coal export facility along the Columbia River. That marks the failure of at least ten proposals for coal export facilities in the United States – four in the Pacific Northwest and six in Gulf Coast states, including Alabama, Texas and Louisiana.
The window of opportunity for the beleaguered coal industry is rapidly closing. Last month marked the announced retirement of 177 U.S. coal plants because of environmental damage, and in general, domestic coal use has plummeted. Now international demand for coal is declining, as Asian countries reject coal because of choking air pollution from operating coal plants. China has banned the use of coal in Beijing, and more provinces are likely to follow. South Korea has imposed an import tax on coal, and in India, communities continue to fight new coal-fired power plants.
The Clean Gulf Commerce Coalition includes Air Alliance Houston, Gulf Restoration Network, Louisiana Environmental Action Network (LEAN), Public Citizen, Sierra Club, and SouthWings.