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Last partner drops out of Coos Bay coal port

Jeff Barnard, AP Environmental Writer

GRANTS PASS, Ore. (AP) -- The last partner has dropped out of a proposal to ship coal from Montana and Wyoming to Asia through Oregon's Port of Coos Bay, port officials announced Monday.

Metropolitan Stevedore Company of Wilmington, Calif., known as Metro Ports, did not renew the exclusive negotiating agreement that expired Sunday, the port said. Two other partners dropped out earlier.

Port CEO David Koch said the port was continuing to develop new shipping facilities, but did not say if that would include coal.

Environmentalists have mounted a campaign to stop the proposed shipments, arguing that burning coal in Asia contributes to global warming and that huge trains filled with coal would be bad for the health of communities along the route. They have argued that demand for coal in Asia is dropping as concerns rise over its contributions to climate change.

"These companies, which are not any stranger to coal, are doing their own studies and seeing it as a bad bet," said Sierra Club spokeswoman Krista Collard.

Last week, the governors of Oregon and Washington sent a joint letter to the White House calling for a study of the climate change impacts of selling U.S. coal to Asia.

A 2012 feasibility study for the Coos Bay project estimated that construction of a bulk marine terminal would cost $250 million, and upgrades to the Coos Bay Rail Link between Coos Bay and Eugene would cost $182 million. It estimated that coal exports through Coos Bay could go from 3 million tons annually in the first year to 10 million metric tons in the fifth year.

Mitsui & Co., the U.S. subsidiary of a Japanese trading company, and Korean Electric Power Corp., the potential buyer of the coal, dropped out earlier.

Mitsui would not say why it dropped out, but a Korean Power spokesman said it was "not the right time" to pursue the project, mainly because the company was not financially healthy enough for that kind of investment.

Korean Power was still looking for overseas sources of coal to power plants owned by its subsidiaries. The company also views overseas coal as a new source of revenue, which it could supply to its own subsidiaries and other companies.

Other ports pursuing coal exports are Cherry Point and Longview in Washington, and St. Helens and Morrow in Oregon.