Washington State Should Stop Blocking Planned Coal Export Terminal
In their 2007 book, “Apollo’s Fire: Igniting America’s Clean Energy Economy,” then-Representative Jay Inslee and Bracken Hendricks made their opposition to coal abundantly clear. Boldly stating that coal is “killing us,” their treatise was just the beginning of a yearslong public campaign by Mr. Inslee against fossil fuels. Now, as the governor of the state of Washington, Mr. Inslee’s public statements deriding fossil fuels make his administration’s priorities clear.
This is bad news not only for international trade and the Americans who benefit from it, but also for global efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
In September, Governor Inslee’s Department of Ecology denied a crucial water quality permit for the Millennium Bulk Terminals shipping port in Longview, Wash. The project, proposed by the Utah-based Lighthouse Resources, would increase the export capacity of coal produced by Montana and Wyoming, some of the cleanest-burning coal in the world, to growing Asian markets.
In denying the permit, the Inslee administration offered a litany of excuses, including the claim that the project would cause impermissible environmental harms. But this claim is backed by insufficient evidence and is simply an attempt to mask the true motive: Governor Inslee and his allies don’t like coal. Fortunately for Montana and Wyoming, the United States Constitution prevents such baldfaced discrimination.
On May 8, the state attorneys general of Montana, Wyoming, South Dakota, Kansas, Utah and Nebraska filed a brief in support of Lighthouse Resource’s lawsuit asserting that Washington State is interfering with foreign and interstate trade by denying permits for the terminal. In the brief, my state and the others argue that officials in Washington engaged in a pattern of discrimination to pursue a predetermined, personal agenda to block the export of coal through their state.
Undoubtedly, this will be a long, drawn-out battle. But preserving the integrity of the Constitution is worth the fight.
The saga of coal production and export over the last decade is fraught with controversy and competing interests. Politicians in Washington and Oregon have taken extraordinary steps to prevent exports of raw coal and stop the generation of electricity by burning coal. For states like Montana, these actions have had significant consequences for our economy: lost tax revenue, lost high-wage jobs and diminished ability to engage in international trade.
The top five coal-importing countries in the world are in Asia. Although the United States has the largest proven coal reserves in the world, we have historically supplied only a small fraction of Asia’s demand.
Both Japan and South Korea, two of the largest energy consumers in Asia, have opted to shift away from nuclear energy, moving instead toward coal as a larger source of electricity. Current limitations on export capacity prevent the fulfillment of coal contracts between the United States and Asian countries. The Millennium Bulk Terminals project has the potential to expand annual American coal exports by 44 million metric tons — increasing United States export value by $2.5 billion.
Unfortunately, Governor Inslee would rather fulfill campaign promises to ideologically driven special interests than recognize the real-world consequences of his agenda.
The irony of the governor’s discriminatory action is it could actually increase global levels of carbon dioxide and other emissions. Asian countries like Japan and South Korea are moving toward burning more coal, whether or not it comes from the United States. Coal mined from the Powder River Basin of Montana and Wyoming generates lower emissions levels compared with lower-quality coal produce by some other major exporters, like Indonesia. If the Inslee administration continues to choke off the supply of cleaner coal from the United States, Asian demand could shift to dirtier-burning coal produced by other countries.
If denying coal ports in Washington is part of the fight against climate change, it is moving the needle in the opposite direction.
This debate isn’t just about coal exports. Today it’s coal but tomorrow it could be about liquefied natural gas. Soon it could be nonorganic produce. America simply cannot allow one state to use geography and ideology to discriminate against another state’s commodities. I shudder to think of the precedent set if federal courts allow Washington to deny the expansion of the Millennium Bulk Terminals coal port because of that state’s ideological-driven opposition to exporting coal.
Governor Inslee has made his position clear: No coal project will ever get a fair shake by his administration. Montana and other Western coal-producing states are being held hostage by the ideology of politicians in Washington State. The courts need to rein them in and allow the expansion of the export terminal to proceed.
- On June 22, 2018