Momentum Builds in Louisiana, the Latest Front in the Fight Against Coal Exports

By Mary Anne Hitt/Beyond Coal

In recent weeks, something amazing has been happening in the Gulf Coast of Louisiana – communities have been standing up and casting votes to ring the alarm about proposed coal export projects. As U.S. coal use has declined, mining companies are looking for a future in international markets. And while most people might think of the Pacific Northwest as ground zero for planned coal export facilities, the Gulf Coast is home to over a dozen proposed coal export terminals as well. Thankfully, as the plans to export coal through the state grow, so does the opposition from local residents.

Case in point – the small town of Gretna, Louisiana, in Jefferson Parish. This is a historic metro area of New Orleans, and it’s also the site of a proposed coal export project called the RAM coal export terminal. If constructed, the facility could see some six to eight million tons of coal and refinery waste exported overseas every year (that’s about six coal-fired power plants worth of coal). It would add to the dust and water pollution burden in the communities it neighbors by sending mile-long, uncovered coal trains running through historic neighborhoods, and it also threatens the state’s vital coastal restoration projects.

The fight over this export facility hit a milestone in September, when residents packed a Jefferson Parish Council meeting. They cheered when the council voted unanimously on a resolution that questioned the impacts that the RAM terminal would have on coastal restoration, and also called on the Army Corps of Engineers to hold public hearings and conduct a full Environmental Impact Statement on RAM.

CGCC organizers Grace Morris (far left) and Devin Martin (far right) with local residents opposed to the Ram coal export terminal.

CGCC organizers Grace Morris (far left) and Devin Martin (far right) with local residents opposed to the Ram coal export terminal.

“This was the outcome of an entire summer of outreach by the Sierra Club, our partners in the Gulf Restoration Network, and the Clean Gulf Commerce Coalition,” says Devin Martin, a New Orleans-based organizer with the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign. “We made a big push to generate turnout and demonstrate public opposition to the export terminal at the previous council meeting in August, and more than 100 people attended — it was standing room only.”

Residents worked together to phone-bank, write letters, put up yard signs, collect petition signatures, and much more to educate their neighbors and to pressure the council. They also packed the Gretna City Council meeting in July and previous educational forums. Martin credits some amazing community activists, especially Grace Morris of the Gulf Restoration Network, for such a successful movement of residents against this polluting facility.

There’s still much work left to do – especially after the Army Corps of Engineers responded to the Jefferson Parish Council vote by issuing a press release saying there’s no need for public hearings on the RAM terminal proposal. But Martin and other coal export opponents still have lots of reasons for optimism.

Momentum is building against coal exports in the Gulf. The unanimous vote by the Jefferson Parish Council on Sept. 17 was preceded by a unanimous vote by the Gretna City Council on September 10. In June, the neighboring city of Westwego passed a resolution opposing coal trains.

“While the (Jefferson Parish Council) resolution doesn’t stop the project or even force the Corps to act, the political implications cannot be overstated,” said Martin. “Jefferson is Louisiana’s second most populous parish, the home turf of some of our most powerful and infamous politicians, and so deep Red that it falls into the infrared spectrum of political leanings.”

You can help! Sign the petition to oppose coal exports in Louisiana.


U.S. Coal Export Market Still Tanking

By Nancy Nusser/Public Citizen

Several publications, including Business Spectator, are reporting that U.S. coal exports continue to drop from their high in 2012. During the first half of 2014, coal exports totaled 52.3 million short tonnes, which reflects a 16 percent decline over the same period in 2013, according to Climate Spectator. The reason: Declining European demand, rising Australian and Indonesian supply. Here’s the full link, or you can access at least the graphs below.

The story also reported that 30 percent of coal exports — both metallurgical and steam — went through Gulf Coast states — Houston, Mobile, and New Orleans. Eastern ports in Baltimore and Norfolk shipped 55 per cent, while Seattle ports accounted for 4 percent.

Here’s a chart from the story, which includes several other graphics detailing the volatility of the market.

map of U.S. coal exports by region and type, as explained in the article text


Jeff Parish Vote Signals Escalation in Louisianans’ Battle Against Coal Export Terminal

CGCC organizers Grace Morris (far left) and Devin Martin (far right) with local residents opposed to the Ram coal export terminal.

GRN organizer Grace Morris (far left) and Sierra Club Delta Chapter staffer Devin Martin (far right) with local residents opposed to the RAM coal export terminal.

By Nancy Nusser/Public Citizen

When Jefferson Parish, Louisiana’s second largest parish, called for a public hearing and an in-depth environmental study of the proposed RAM coal export terminal, that marked a turning point in public opposition to the facility — and in our campaign. Last week, the Jefferson Parish Council called for a “comprehensive environmental study” as well as a public hearing aimed at educating people about the terminal.

That means that in the course of only a few months, three local government bodies have voted unanimously for resolutions aimed at the RAM facility. These months have been a watershed.

Continue reading


Louisiana’s Jefferson Parish Expected to Vote Against RAM Coal Export Terminal

By Nancy Nusser/Public Citizen

Louisiana residents who’ve been fighting the RAM coal export terminal — and our own organizers — earned another huge win last week when the City Council of Gretna passed a resolution calling on the Army Corps of Engineers to do an environmental impact study on the terminal and hold a public hearing. The move was prompted by local residents, who crowded an Aug. 13 City Council meeting to voice their opposition to the terminal and coal trains.

More than 100 Gretna residents turned out for the Aug. 13 City Council meeting to protest the coal trains that would service the RAM coal export terminal.

More than 100 Gretna residents turned out for the Aug. 13 City Council meeting to protest the coal trains that would service the RAM coal export terminal.

This week, a similar resolution is expected to be taken up by the council for all of Jefferson Parish, an even bigger win, since Jefferson is the second-largest parish in the entire state of Louisiana.

And here’s the bigger picture. If the Army Corps does the study and holds a hearing, that could slow the permitting process for construction of the RAM terminal.Thanks to the people of Jefferson and Plaquemines parishes, the campaign to stop the terminal is gaining momentum!


Fight AgainFight Against RAM Coal Terminal, Trains Gets Major Boost with Town Resolution

Sept. 11, 2014

Residents’ Fight Against RAM Coal Terminal, Trains Gets Major Boost with Gretna Resolution

GRETNA, LA – Community members fighting the proposed RAM Terminals coal export facility earned a major victory when Gretna’s City Council unanimously called for an environmental impact review and public hearing on the project slated for a site in nearby Plaquemines Parish. Public opposition to the terminal has mushroomed in recent weeks. More than 100 local residents – many carrying “No Coal Train” signs – turned out for the Aug. 13 Gretna City Council meeting. Residents called on the City Council to take a stand against both coal trains and the RAM terminal.

“This is great news for all of us who are worried about coal export terminals and coal trains,” said Gayle Bertucci, a retired schoolteacher who lives less than 40 feet from tracks that would be used by mile-long coal trains. “The Army Corps needs to complete a comprehensive environmental impact study and hold public hearings so people and officials can see the damage that the RAM coal export terminal would do to our wetlands, water and air.”

During its Sept. 10 meeting, the Gretna City Council unanimously passed a resolution calling on the Army Corps of Engineers to conduct a “comprehensive environmental study on the impacts of the proposed RAM terminal project,” planned for a site near Ironton and Myrtle Grove in Plaquemines Parish. The City Council also called for a public hearing to “educate the public and city officials as to the economic and environmental impacts” of the proposed terminal.

“We have come together to stand up to protect our health, our property and our quality of life – and this shows it’s working,” said Laurie Ledet, a member of the Gretna Historical Society and a champion of the town’s historic district.

Holding a public hearing and conducting a full Environmental Impact Statement could delay the 404 permit process for the proposed RAM Terminal. The terminal cannot be constructed without that go-ahead, and now a growing movement – city councils, West Bank residents, and local conservation groups – is calling on the Army Corps to conduct a full and complete analysis of all its impacts before making a decision on the permit.

Laurie Ledet, a staunch opponent of the RAM terminal and its coal trains, turned out for the Aug. 13 Gretna City Council meeting.

“I’m so proud of the City of Gretna,”  Ledet  said.  “It was wonderful to watch the Gretna City Council and Mayor Constant take a courageous stand to protect our historic community from RAM terminal’s coal trains and the threat that the terminal presents to coastal restoration.”

Gretna’s resolution follows action by Westwego in June. Led by Mayor John Shaddinger and Councilman Glenn Green, Westwego passed a resolution that also called on the Army Corps to conduct an environmental review and hold a public hearing on the RAM Terminal.

Residents are now calling on the Jefferson Parish Council to build on town leadership to pass its own resolution with the same demands. The RAM Terminal and coal trains are expected to come up at the council’s meeting next week.

Plaquemines Parish is already home to two coal export terminals. Residents living nearby suffer with heavy coal dust pollution, which causes respiratory ailments and collects on their homes and property. Aerial photos and satellite images demonstrate pollution of the Mississippi River from the terminals. A recent report in NOLA.com/Times-Picayune suggests that coal from the terminals is already polluting sediment used in major coastal restoration projects.

Local residents who have been fighting coal export terminals recently joined with the Clean Gulf Commerce Coalition, an alliance of environmental groups working to turn back plans to increase coal exports throughout the Gulf Coast, .

The Clean Gulf Commerce Coalition includes Air Alliance Houston, Gulf Restoration Network, Louisiana Environmental Action Network (LEAN), Public Citizen, Sierra Club, and SouthWings.  

Contact: Nancy Nusser, nnusser@citizen,org; 410 934 9588