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Northwest governors issue appeal to Obama administration on coal exports

Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber and Washington Gov. Jay Inslee issued a strongly worded appeal to President Obama’s chief environmental policy adviser Monday, seeking a thorough consideration of the environmental aspects of coal exports.

“Before the United States and our trading partners make substantial new investments in coal generation and the infrastructure to transport coal, extending the world’s reliance on this fuel for decades, we need a full public airing of the consequences of such a path,” the two governors wrote in a March 25 letter to Nancy Sutley, chairwoman of the federal Council on Environmental Quality.

“Coal is the major source of global greenhouse gas emissions, and its share is increasing rapidly,” the letter states. “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.”

The governors note there are at least four active proposals now to export coal from the two Northwest states, which potentially could send 100 million tons of U.S. coal a year to Asia, much of it mined from federal lands. Burning that coal could spew 240 million tons of carbon emissions into the atmosphere each year.

“As the major owner of coal reserves in the western U.S., the federal government must consider whether it has appropriately priced the coal leases that it continues to grant, including the practice of granting non-competitive leases,” the letter states.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is reviewing several applications for coal export shipping terminals. Agencies of both states also are considering permit applications.