Conservationists are challenging the approval of a Columbia River port that will export coal to Asia.

Conservationists are challenging the approval of a Columbia River port that will export coal to Asia.

Cowlitz County commissioners voted in November to allow a subsidiary of Australia-based Ambre Energy to redevelop a port near Longview to handle 5 million tons of coal annually.

Earthjustice appealed the permit decision Monday to the state Shorelines Hearings Board on behalf of Climate Solutions, Sierra Club, Washington Environmental Council and Columbia Riverkeeper.

“The county commission rubber-stamped the permit and ignored their duty to act in the best interest of the community,” said Earthjustice attorney Jan Hasselman.

He said the county failed to consider the effects of increased mining, trains transporting coal and potential threats to human health.

Coal would be shipped from Montana and Wyoming by rail to the new terminal about 40 miles north of Portland. It would be the first of several proposed new coal terminals on the West Coast.

“They have the right to appeal,” said board of commissioners Chairman George Raiter. “I just think we did a good job on the shoreline permit, and I would expect the hearings board to find that it was properly issued.”

“We expected an appeal, so we’re not surprised,” said Joseph Cannon, chief executive of Millennium Bulk Logistics, the Ambre Energy subsidiary, in a telephone interview.

Cannon said the company agreed to a number of conditions as part of the shoreline-development permit it received from Cowlitz County, including minimizing dust from coal pile.

“There are no impacts at all as near as we can tell to human health as a result of this application,” he said.

The project would create about 70 permanent jobs, as well as 120 construction jobs, and generate $3.2 million in tax revenue for county and state governments. Annual operations would also add $1.6 million, Cannon said.

The company expects to begin construction as soon as appeals are final, which could be early 2012, Cannon said.

Environmentalists say the project runs counter to efforts by Washington, Oregon and other states to curb their own greenhouse-gas emissions — and will simply shift those emissions overseas.

K.C. Golden, policy director of Climate Solutions, said the project “flies in the face of the state’s commitment to climate solutions and leadership in the clean energy economy.”

But Cannon said the “coal that will be shipped through this port to China has 90 percent less mercury in it that would be coming back to us than the coal that’s currently being burned in China.”