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Energy | Environment

Wash. Gubernatorial Hopefuls Weigh In On Coal

Democrat Jay Inslee, left, and Republican Rob McKenna squared off Tuesday in Spokane in their first gubernatorial debate.

Democrat Jay Inslee, left, and Republican Rob McKenna squared off Tuesday in Spokane in their first gubernatorial debate.

Both of Washington’s major gubernatorial candidates used Tuesday’s debate to call for a comprehensive review of Washington’s three proposed coal export terminals.

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And while neither Democrat Jay Inslee or Republican Rob McKenna gave bottom line positions on the issue, each used their first debate together to hint at where they might come down if forced to choose.

It’s an issue that’s increasingly rising to the top tier of environmental concern, as well as economic possibility, for the region. The coal-export question’s role in the debate in Spokane underscores the way coal isn’t just being debated by the communities being considered for an export terminal. Politicians, too, are grappling with the issue.

McKenna hammered the economic opportunities of exporting coal.

“We’re talking about hundreds and hundreds of permanent high-paying jobs,” said McKenna, the Washington attorney general. “If they can meet our state’s high environmental health and safety standards then why would they be discriminated against as opposed to some other economic development project?”

Inslee was a bit more tentative.

“My view is we need to evaluate all of the jobs prospects, both plus or minus, before we make a decision, said Inslee, a member of Congress. “But let me suggest that this is a moment of truth for the state of Washington and it is a question of whether or not we will embrace a future that can embrace the new systems of energy.”

The two agreed that study of the proposed terminals should be within the context of larger regional impacts — like increased rail traffic and human and environmental health effects along the rail routes.

There are six ports in the Northwest considering building export facilities to bring coal from Wyoming and Montana to Asian markets. Half of those ports are in Washington.

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