By Jessica Goad
Newly-minted Washington Governor Jay Inslee has been lauded for his impassioned views on environmental issues from climate change to renewable energy. Indeed, his first official act as governor was to write a letter to a clean energy company inviting it to relocate to the state.
In his first press conference as governor last week, Inslee addressed another aspect of the climate change fight in the Pacific Northwest: proposed coal export terminals that would allow for the shipping of 150 million of tons of coal every year from public lands in Wyoming and Montana’s Powder River Basin abroad.
In response to a question about whether or not federal government analyses of the terminals should take into account the carbon emissions that will come from the burning of the coal exported through the terminals, Inslee said:
It is clear that there are ramifications ultimately if we burn the enormous amounts of Powder River Basin coal that are exported through our ports… It is an enormous number of tons of carbon dioxide that will be released into the atmosphere, it doesn’t matter where it’s burned, it ends up in Puget Sound. That is a physical fact.
The challenge is to figure out, frankly, for our state from a policy standpoint is where you sort of draw the line in evaluating those impacts from any carbon-based system. I think that’s a challenge for us. I will say that from what I know, this is the largest decision we will be making as a state from a carbon pollution standpoint certainly during my lifetime, and nothing comes even close to it. So I’m going to be giving some thought to this.
Currently, five coal export terminals are proposed for the Pacific Northwest, two in Washington and three in Oregon. Public hearings on them are underway, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is in the process of deciding which impacts to include in its analyses. Environmentalists and many local leaders have called for a cumulative and programmatic review of all of the terminals together, in addition to the impacts that the trains running from the Rocky Mountain West to the coast will have on communities, waterways, and tribes.
One of the reasons that this is shaping up to be such a large and controversial issue is that coal export terminals are critical to the health of the U.S. coal mining industry and have been referred to as its “hail-Mary moment” now that the U.S. is using less coal for electricity. The industry’s commitment to getting terminals built can be partially seen in the amount of money it has already spent promoting them—for example, the Alliance for Northwest Jobs and Exports spent $866,000 in September on television advertisements.
Inslee was careful to note in his press conference that he “has not made a decision” on how his administration will address the issues of carbon pollution from coal exports, and how it is intending to move forward on this issue in general.