Tri-City business leaders worry about coal export rules

By Geoff Folsom, Tri-City HeraldApril 24, 2013 

Tri-City business leaders are urging Gov. Jay Inslee to be careful what he asks for in regulating coal exports.

Steve Cooper of the Washington State Farm Bureau, Jared Balcom of Balcom & Moe and Bill Lampson of Lampson International want Inslee to avoid any action they feel could harm U.S. exporters' ability to compete against international companies.

In a letter to Inslee, the men take issue with the governor's request to the White House Council on Environmental Quality that greenhouse gas emissions be considered when it evaluates export proposals and facilities.

"We believe this will set a negative precedent and we are troubled by any effort to erect new barriers to exports that would put the U.S. at a disadvantage globally," they wrote.

More than 40 percent of Washington's jobs can be linked to exports, the business officials say, and moving coal and other bulk commodities can help expand the economy and grow other exports, such as agriculture.

Inslee spokeswoman Jaime Smith said the governor's call for federal greenhouse gas emission reviews specifically referred to coal exports and wasn't tied to proposed coal export terminal projects.

"The governor remains committed to a fair, rigorous and objective evaluation of those projects," Smith said. "He believes it is appropriate, though, for the federal government to look at the effects of continued coal leasing and export and determine proper policies for pricing coal leases from federal lands."

Inslee's letter to the environmental quality council asking for the emission reviews was co-written with Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber.

The letter calls for a "full public airing" of the consequences of new investments in coal transportation and generation. It calls coal the world's major source of greenhouse gas emissions, "and its share is increasing rapidly."

The letter also says coal can increase health costs by increasing the amount of mercury in drinking water supplies. Its use can lead to wildfires, increased sea levels and depleted snow packs that western states rely on for drinking water.

Growing energy demands in Asia could mean 170 million tons of coal are shipped through Northwest hubs by 2022, coming from the Powder River Basin in Wyoming and Montana, officials have said in recent estimates. That could mean 32 coal trains traveling though Pasco each day.

Pasco officials have expressed concern over the amount of time the trains would take to pass through the city's rail crossings. Estimates show trains could travel through the city for up to five hours a day.

In July 2012, a coal train derailed in Mesa, a rural town north of the Tri-Cities, spilling about 30 cars of the 125-car train. No one was hurt and there was no environmental damage, but the incident became a rallying cry for coal opponents.

Cooper, Balcom and Lampson wrote that if the Northwest doesn't build export terminals, Asia will still get the coal -- from Canadian ports.

"Jobs are going to be created, it is just a matter of where," they wrote. "From an economic development standpoint, it would be a shame to export the jobs to Canada rather than creating them somewhere in Washington or Oregon."

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