The federal agency in charge of approving Northwest coal export terminals delivered a setback for environmentalists, telling a congressional panel Tuesday morning that it will not be considering the area-wide effects of transporting coal, or the global impact of burning it in Asia.
The US Army Corps of Engineers is overseeing the environmental review for the three terminals proposed for Washington and Oregon waterways. Together they could bring 100 million tons of coal a year to the Asian markets from the Powder River basin of Wyoming and Montana.
“The appropriate application of our regulations have lead us to the conclusion that the effects of the burning of the coal in Asia or wherever it may be is too far removed from our action to be considered as an indirect effect or a cumulative effect of our action itself,” Jennifer Moyer told the House Energy and Power Subcommittee. Moyer is acting chief of the regulatory program for the US Army Corps of Engineers.
The corps also announced that it will not conduct an area-wide environmental impact assessment. That would take into consideration the cumulative regional impacts of exporting coal through the Pacific Northwest.
Environmental groups, Indian tribes and the governors of Oregon and Washington have made repeated calls for a comprehensive review of the proposed coal export terminals. They want greenhouse gas emissions to be part of that review.
Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn is one of the most outspoken advocates for a region wide environmental review that takes account of emissions from burning coal in Asia. He also testified before the subcommittee. The hearing focused on the “barriers” to exporting Liquid Natural Gas and coal and “the role, if any, Congress should play in removing or amending these barriers”.
McGinn raised concerns about the potential for increased train traffic as coal is moved from the Powder River Basin of Wyoming and Montana to the three coal export terminals proposed for construction in Washington and Oregon. The largest of which would be built north of Seattle near Bellingham, Wash., and could have up to 18 coal trains traveling through Seattle each day.
“We know in Seattle that 18 new additional coal trains a day will cause significant negative traffic and public health impacts,” McGinn said in his prepared testimony. “At a time when we are close to powering down the last coal plant in Washington state, we shouldn’t be moving forward on a coal export proposal.”
The Mayor is part of a group of more than 50 politicians and tribal leaders in the region, known as The Leadership Alliance Against Coal.
The coal export debate has been heating up in the Pacific Northwest, with strong support for coal exports from the Association of Washington Businesses, the Washington Farm Bureau and several labor and trade unions.
“Trade has been a key pillar of the Northwest economy for decades,” says Lauri Hennessey, spokeswoman for the Alliance for Northwest Jobs and Exports in response to the mayor’s prepared testimony. “Four out of 10 jobs in Washington state depend on it. These projects will ensure Washington ports remain competitive.”
Testimony was also arranged to be delivered by the National Mining Association, The Center for Liquefied Natural Gas and the US Department of Energy, among others.
The Army Corps is set to announce the scope of the environmental review for the Gateway Pacific Terminal, the largest of the three proposed terminals, in the coming weeks.