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Cornell Battle Sr.
But it’s unclear how much impact environmentalists can have in a state where most politicians are more likely to join a coal facility’s ribbon cutting than the picket line outside.
The oil and gas industry accounts for 35 percent of Louisiana's economy, according to industry group the Institute for Energy Research. Louisiana ships out about 20 percent of all U.S. coal exports, 12 percent of which goes to Asia, according to the National Mining Association. That, the association estimates, contributes $282 million to the state's economy annually and is responsible for about 2,750 jobs.
“I know they’re going to do whatever they want,” Battle said. “That’s government.”
Representatives from Louisiana’s Coastal Restoration and Protection Authority and the state’s Department of Natural Resources said they believed the permitting was in line with state standards. They said they could not comment on anything more specific because of the pending litigation.
RAM Terminals LLC and its parent company, Armstrong Energy, did not return calls for comment on this story.
While activists vow to continue fighting for state action, they’re also hoping that some larger forces will work in their favor.
Even supporters of coal energy acknowledge that the industry is becoming an increasingly risky investment. Cheap natural gas and government regulation have landed hard hits on the coal industry here. And experts say that other countries, even China, may face similar fates.
A pension fund backed by Goldman Sachs recently pulled out its 49 percent stake in what was supposed to be the largest coal terminal in North America. The company didn’t give a reason for the decision, but it released a report last July predicting that China’s demand for imported coal will shrink in the coming years.
And as China faces an air-quality crisis, it’s beginning to tighten its environmental regulations, making it harder for U.S. companies to profit from shipping coal there.
“Coal has been falling out of favor for a very long time,” said Thomas M. Power, a professor of natural-resource economics at the University of Montana. “Prices are down. Demand is down ... Coal companies are beginning to see the writing on the walls.”
In the meantime, as the coal industry, regulators and activists battle for the future of coal, residents in Myrtle Grove, Ironton and other communities around the Gulf say they’ll keep fighting — and keep cleaning.
“Every other day we have to dust the house,” Battle said, sitting on his back porch and looking out over the tree line where the RAM terminal may be built. “It’s a constant thing.”
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