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Kitzhaber Calls For Environmental Impact Study Of Coal Exports

Gov. John Kitzhaber sent a letter to federal agencies today asking them to do a new environmental impact statement for coal leases in the Powder River Basin that looks at the impacts of shipping coal through the Northwest for export to Asia.

Gov. John Kitzhaber sent a letter to federal agencies today asking them to do a new environmental impact statement for coal leases in the Powder River Basin that looks at the impacts of shipping coal through the Northwest for export to Asia.

Gov. John Kitzhaber shared his “grave concerns” about coal export projects on the West Coast at the Future Energy Conference in Portland today. And he asked the federal government to conduct a full environmental impact study of the coal mined on public land in the Powder River Basin – including the impacts of exporting it to Asia – before any more coal leases are granted.

There are six coal export terminals proposed in the Northwest, at Oregon ports in Coos Bay, Boardman and St. Helens and at Washington ports in Bellingham, Longview, and Grays Harbor. Many of the projects would involve taking coal from the Powder River Basin and shipping by rail to ports for exports to Asia.

Kitzhaber said there are “many unanswered questions” about coal exports on the West Coast, and that he’s concerned about the environmental, economic and health impacts of shipping coal along rail lines and waterways in Oregon and Washington.

Kitzhaber said the federal government has assessed some of the environmental impacts of mining coal on public lands in Wyoming and Montana. But the existing Environmental Impact Statement for coal leases on Bureau of Land Management sites in the Powder River Basin only assesses shipping coal to the Midwest and Eastern states for power production in the U.S.

The BLM has not analyzed the impacts of shipping that coal to Asia through terminals on the West Coast.

Here are all of his comments from today’s speech:

“As you know, negotiations are currently underway at many locations in Oregon and Washington to secure the necessary approvals for coal export facilities to ship coal from The Powder River basin to Asia.  I have grave concerns about proceeding in this direction in the absence of a full national discussion about the ramifications inherent in this course of action.

The Environmental Impact Statement that the Department of the Interior is currently relying on to issue leases for coal extraction from public lands in the Powder River basin addressed the environmental effects of transport and use of coal in the mid-western and eastern United States for domestic energy production, but it did not evaluate the effects of coal exports to Asia.

The United States has the largest known coal reserves in the world, and currently exports approximately 80-100 million tons of coal each year.  The current proposals in Oregon and Washington could result in an additional 157 million tons of coal exports, more than doubling the U.S. export capacity, with all of this increase going to fuel growth in energy production in Asia.

Most of the as yet unexamined environmental, health, community, economic impacts associated with this tremendous increase in coal transport to the west coast would be shouldered by Oregon and Washington. Further, the environmental effects of encouraging further long-term investment in Asia in coal-fired electric generation, in terms of air quality impacts on the west coast of the United States, have not been analyzed.  Increases in ozone, mercury, and particulates could have both significant environmental and economic effects in this country, by requiring U.S. industry to adopt additional pollution controls in order to meet air quality standards.

A decision to proceed on this course has profound implications for our nation’s energy security; and for the trajectory of the world’s transition to cleaner sources of energy.  If the United States is going to embark on the large scale export of coal to Asia it is imperative that we ask — and answer — the question of how this decision fits into the larger strategy of moving to a lower carbon future. In the lack of a clear federal policy on this point we will simply be deciding by not deciding; locking ourselves into a coal dependent future without the benefit of a full national discussion, consideration and balancing of all the associated economic, environmental and health problems related to such a course of action for the Pacific Northwest and for our country.

To address these important national and regional concerns, today I have asked the Federal government to prepare a full programmatic environmental impact statement under the National Environmental Protection Act to examine the effects of coal transport to the west coast and the use of coal for electricity production in Asia before any further permitting or leasing decisions are made.”

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