Faith and Environmental Groups Challenge Proposed Coal Export Terminal in Plaquemines Parish

Terminal Will Threaten Historic Communities, Wetlands Restoration

NEW ORLEANS, LA –(ENEWSPF)–September 24, 2012.  The Sierra Club, Christian Ministers Missionary Baptist Association of Plaquemines, and Louisiana Environmental Action Network are challenging the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality’s approval of a Clean Air Act permit for a proposed coal export terminal in Plaquemines Parish, Louisiana. The Armstrong Coal Company, based in St. Louis, Missouri, intends to develop a new terminal that would ship up to 10 million tons of coal per year through the Mississippi Delta. The proposed terminal could cause serious environmental and public health impacts, exposing the residents of the historic community of Ironton and other nearby towns to coal dust and toxic runoff.  In addition, the proposed terminal would impair state-wide efforts to restore Louisiana’s coastline by directly interfering with a major wetland restoration project.

“When IMT (an existing coal terminal) came in, they destroyed two cemeteries, the oldest church around here, and moved the entire community of Oak Park. As long as God leaves breath in my body, I’m not going to let another coal company destroy another Black community in Plaquemines,” said Ironton native and Louisiana Environmental Action Network member Rose Jackson.

The proposed terminal would be located approximately a mile from Ironton, a historic small town founded by freed slaves after the Civil War.  Ironton is already facing problems from air and water pollution from surrounding industrial facilities, which include an oil refinery and two existing coal terminals. The citizens of Ironton had no opportunity to voice their concerns to the local agencies before the air permit was granted, as it was issued without public notice and comment. 

“We should have been informed; the state should have gotten our opinion. Think about the children and elderly people who will have to breathe this coal dust— I feel like they wouldn’t do this to any other community but Ironton,” said Pastor Haywood Johnson of St. Paul Missionary Baptist Church in Ironton.

In addition to the threats it poses to public health, the proposed RAM Terminal would impair the local wetland ecosystem, as it would be located directly adjacent to the LCA Medium Diversion, a project that the State of Louisiana has determined to be vital to the state-wide wetland restoration plan. Both the U.S National Marine Fisheries Service and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency have offered public comment that the proposed RAM Terminal would interfere with the wetlands restoration project. Furthermore, coal export terminals are especially risky for Southern Louisiana, where sea-level rise and hurricanes routinely lead to toxic pollution and spills from low-lying industrial facilities.

“Hurricane Isaac showed how risky coal exports are for Louisiana,” said Devin Martin of Sierra Club. “This is an area where storm levees failed and that experienced devastating flooding. Coal for export is kept in open-air piles, and after Hurricane Isaac, we saw coal washed directly into the river and surrounding wetlands. Coal runoff contains arsenic, mercury, and other toxic chemicals, and these toxics are going directly into the water. It’s unfathomable that the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality is not considering these huge risks, and that the agency rubber-stamped RAM’s air permit.  Instead of courting more coal terminals, state and local officials should focus on restoring wetlands and strengthening storm protection for Plaquemines to help prevent future flooding and accidents.”

For more information on the recent spills from existing coal facilities during Hurricane Isaac, please see the Gulf Restoration Network’s reports and aerial images.