The Associated Press

CLATSKANIE — The Port of St. Helens in northwest Oregon has given a green light to two energy companies that want to export American coal to Asia.

The port’s commissioners voted Wednesday to approve options for leasing property once the companies are ready to build terminals at its Port Westward facility in Columbia County, the Longview Daily News reported.

Both proposals are described as in preliminary stages and both need building permits.

A subsidiary of the Australian company Ambre Energy proposes a $150 million project to export 3.5 million tons a year to begin with, expanding to as much as 8 million tons.

The coal would come from the Powder River Basin of Montana and Wyoming and be transferred to barges at Port Morrow in Central Oregon for shipment to Port Westward.

The port says Kinder Morgan of Houston proposes a $200 million project to ship 15 million tons a year. It would arrive on several mile-long unit trains a day.

At a public hearing, opponents cited railroad congestion, coal dust and the wisdom of investing in energy from fossil fuels.

“Is it really worth it to satisfy King Coal?” asked Harvey Williamson, who lives upriver of the terminal site and said he worried coal dust could pollute the Columbia River and destroy salmon runs.

An Ambre representative said plans call for covered conveyors, water suppression systems and a giant warehouse to limit coal dust.

“Our goal is to have no visible coal,” said Jay Waldron, a Portland lawyer.

Union leaders and others said they welcomed the opportunity for more than 100 new jobs in an area still struggling with double-digit unemployment.

“I am tired of our kids moving because they can’t afford to stay here, because there are no jobs,” said Taylor Kissinger of Clatskanie.