Processing Magazine

Projected west coast coal-export terminals avoid regulatory snarl

June 24, 2013
Coal conveyor
The West Coast coal industry has called for the opening of three new export terminal ports on grounds that they could contribute to the economy and create important jobs for the region. (iStockphoto/Thinkstock) 


An extensive environmental study on exporting coal from the western United States is not going to be carried out, a senior official at the Army Corps of Engineers informed a Congressional committee last week.

Environmentalists, nonprofit organizations and officials from Washington, Oregon and Montana have called for a broad environmental review on the impact of transporting huge amounts of coal by train from Montana and Wyoming to ports located on the West Coast. Concerns have been raised over the pollution caused by shipping and burning coal.

Meanwhile, the West Coast coal industry has called for the opening of three new ports on grounds that they could contribute to the economy and create important jobs for the region. They argue that a broad environmental review would not treat coal in the same way as its proponents would treat other commodities shipped in the same way, such as lumber and wheat.

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Jennifer Moyer, the Corps' acting chief of regulatory affairs, said that two separate studies will be conducted, but with a much more narrow scope. They will look into two of the proposed ports in Washington -- Gateway Pacific Terminal, near Bellingham, and Millennium Bulk Terminal, at Longview. A decision about an environmental review on a third site, Port of Morrow, Ore., is still pending, the official added. However, a study that encompassed all three terminals and went further into their impact would not be a suitable solution.

Many activities of concern to the public linked to the terminals and the transportation of coal, including rail traffic, coal mining, shipping coal outside of U.S. territory and the burning of coal overseas, are outside the Corps' control and responsibility, Moyer told the House Energy and Commerce Committee in a written testimony.

Ross Eisenberg, vice president of energy and resources policy for the National Association of Manufacturers, explained that the three ports would create over 11,000 jobs in the Pacific Northwest and a broad environmental review would delay the process of putting these in action.

In theory Congress could intervene and require an environmental review, but experts believe this is not likely to happen, considering the fact that Republicans, who control the House, support the terminal launch project.

One Republican who openly supports the new terminals is Cynthia Lummis, of Wyoming, who has publicly criticized the "anti-coal" movement. The decision by the Corps is good news that would finally give the coal industry a break, she stated.

Meanwhile, Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn stood up against the Corps' decision, providing lawmakers with an exhaustive list of different ways the move would damage communities in Washington, including air and water pollution from coal dust and diesel exhaust.

It is predicted that the coal terminals would ship about 110 million tons of coal to Asia each year, with most of this amount leaving the United States through the Bellingham port, the Huffington Post reported.