Proposed port permit brings questions from community, national activists

Sara  Sneath By Sara Sneath

Feb. 6, 2014 at 7:03 p.m.
Updated Feb. 6, 2014 at 8:07 p.m.

Calhoun Port Authority applied for an air quality permit that would allow the port to import and export petroleum coke, coal and limestone by truck, railcar, barge or ship.

But it remains unclear why petroleum coke and coal are on the permit.

Local activists and national environmental organizations suspect the port authority is attempting to facilitate an export coal terminal.

Port Director Charles R. Hausmann did not return telephone calls seeking comment Thursday.

Hillary Corgey, the healthy ports organizer and researcher for Public Citizen Texas, said there has been a push for export coal terminals along the Gulf Coast from companies that have failed to introduce the facilities in the Pacific Northwest. In 2013, three coal terminals were abandoned because of falling coal prices.

"We don't want the Gulf Coast to be a dumping ground for businesses that fail in the Pacific Northwest," Corgey said.

Last year, at least three export coal terminal proposals failed at the Port of Corpus Christi. Minutes from the port commission meeting indicate the terminals were abandoned because they were not economically viable.

While the coal industry in the U.S. was doomed long ago, U.S. coal producers have envisioned the Asian energy market as a second chance, Corgey said. But in places such as China, the use of petroleum coke for electricity is slowly shifting toward more environmentally conscious options, she said.

The proposed Texas Commission on Environmental Quality air quality permit lists annual limits of 1.1 million tons of coal and petroleum coke export and 1.8 million tons of import.

Formosa Plastics in Point Comfort was originally designed to use petroleum coke as a fuel source, said spokesman Bill Harvey. He said the plant is in the process of converting to natural gas and is not using coal or petroleum coke at this time.

The cost of the proposed permit to TCEQ was not affected by the addition of petroleum coke and coal, said Andrea Morrow, TCEQ spokeswoman, in a written comment. She said the second public notification on the permit application was recently completed, and the permit reviewer is working on a response to comments, which will address all comments received during the public comment period.

Diane Wilson, 65, of Seadrift, said she submitted comments on behalf of the Union of Commercial Oystermen of Texas and Calhoun County Research Watch. Wilson said as an environmental activist and fourth-generation shrimper, she is concerned about the environmental affects of large amounts of coal coming in and out of the port.

She said that between 2009 and 2011, Formosa Plastics and Alcoa plants in Point Comfort were among the top companies with the most "upset" emission events.

"You already have two companies with more upsets than any other companies in Texas. And then you want to put in a coal terminal," Wilson said. "It's unbelievable. What else can you pile on top of the community over there?"



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