Governor Jay Inslee has remained irritatingly coy on the subject of several proposed coal export terminals in the Pacific Northwest, and the mile-and-a-half-long coal trains they would send rumbling through Washington State. Until, perhaps, today.
In a letter sent jointly with Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber to Nancy Sutley, the chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, Inslee at first adopts his usual noncommittal air, emphasizing that "no final decisions have been made on the related applications for state permits for these facilities." Okay. Whatever.
But after several paragraphs outlining the negative environmental and health impacts of coal emissions, Inslee and Kitzhaber go on to demand that as "the major owner of coal reserves in the western U.S.," the federal government "must examine the true costs of long-term commitments to supply coal from federal lands for energy production."
Increasing levels of greenhouse gases and other pollutants resulting from the burning of coal, including pollutants other than CO2, are imposing direct costs on people, businesses and communities in the U.S. and around the world. These costs include the public health costs of increased atmospheric deposition of mercury in drinking water sources, as well as costs resulting from ocean acidification, rising sea levels, wildfires, and shrinking snow packs that are key sources of water for the western U.S.
[...] Given that the cumulative total of coal exports from Oregon and Washington could result in CO2 emissions on the order of 240 million tons per year, well above the significance level described in the draft guidance – it is hard to conceive that the federal government would ignore the inevitable consequences of coal leasing and coal export. We believe the decisions to continue and expand coal leasing from federal lands and authorize the export of that coal are likely to lead to long-term investments in coal generation in Asia, with air quality and climate impacts in the United States that dwarf those of almost any other action the federal government could take in the foreseeable future.
Inslee and Kitzhaber don't directly ask the feds to block the export terminals, but they do urge the CEQ "in the strongest possible terms" to hold the coal export terminals to a standard they likely cannot meet. For if the economic externalities of expanding coal exports were worked into the price of the coal, it would almost certainly be too expensive to export.
"There are costs associated with exporting coal that are beyond the limited impacts of any one project," Inslee spokesperson Jaime Smith replied via email when I asked her to confirm if the letter really said what I thought it said.
While it's awfully damn frustrating that Inslee and Kitzhaber can't bring themselves to come right out and say that they oppose the coal export terminals, it's hard to read this letter any other way. In any case, it's the most sweeping and definitive statement we've seen from Inslee on the subject yet.