Governors Ask Obama to Weigh Climate Impact of Coal Ports

President Barack Obama’s administration should weigh the climate-change impact of burning coal in Asia when considering whether to approve Pacific coal-export terminals, two Western governors said.

In a letter to the White House Council of Environmental Quality, the Democratic governors, John Kitzhaber of Oregon and and Jay Inslee of Washington, said the administration must expand its review of the projects and consider the carbon dioxide that would be released when the coal is burned for power. Collectively, three proposed terminals, which the Army Corps of Engineers is reviewing, would result in the export of up to 100 million tons of coal a year, they said.

“We believe the federal government must examine the true costs of long-term commitments to supply coal from federal lands for energy production, whether that production occurs domestically or in Asia,” the governors wrote in a letter yesterday to Nancy Sutley, the head of that White House office. The climate impact of these decisions “dwarf those of almost any other action the federal government could take in the foreseeable future.”

The letter from the top executives of the two states where at least four facilities are planned underscores the growing pressure on Obama over the federal permitting of projects. Environmentalists complain that while the president has pledged to combat climate change, his administration has greenlighted coal mining on federal lands, which will lead to a jump in carbon-dioxide emissions.

Industry Opposition

Business groups such as the National Association of Manufacturers and companies such as Peabody Energy Corp. say trying to factor in the impact of climate change under the National Environmental Policy Act could prompt delays and lawsuits, hindering needed projects.

“Such a requirement could be particularly damaging to the Northwest, where trade and exports are vital to the economy and support good family-wage jobs,” Lauri Hennessey, a spokeswoman for the pro-port Seattle-based Alliance for Northwest Jobs & Exports, said in a statement in response to the governors’ letter.

The Senate passed a non-binding amendment to the budget last week that would prohibit the CEQ from adopting guidance for all agencies on how they should weigh the climate impacts of federal projects. That guidance has been stalled at the White House since 2010.

Republican Lawmaker

“It is expected that CEQ will require agencies to consider the greenhouse-gas emissions produced by exports after those exports leave the shores of the United States,” Republican Senator John Barrasso of Wyoming, the amendment’s sponsor, said in a statement.

The impact of that type of analysis would be greatest for coal, which emits the most carbon dioxide of any fossil fuel when burned for energy.

The port projects include one from Ambre Energy Ltd. to build a coal-export facility at the Port of Morrow in Oregon and a Peabody terminal in Bellingham, Washington. Under existing rules, officials weighing approval would consider whether ships in the port would foul the water or the trains carrying the coal in would generate air pollution with coal dust.

Under the guidance under consideration, the White House would require consideration of both the increase in greenhouse gases and a project’s vulnerability to flooding, drought or other extreme weather that might result from global warming, according to an initial proposal it issued in 2010.

While that guidance hasn’t been issued yet, the governors are saying the Army Corps must consider that impact now.

“These steps are needed for the U.S. to make sound decisions as the international demand for the coal resources in the U.S. continues to grow, and to ensure that we do not simply pass these tough issues on to future generations,” Kitzhaber and Inslee wrote.

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