The debate over coal exports in the Northwest moved to Washington D.C. Tuesday. Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn testified alongside representatives from the mining and natural gas industries in a congressional hearing about energy exports.
But the biggest news came from the Army Corps of Engineers, which is overseeing the environmental review of coal export facilities in the Northwest. The Army Corps announced that it will not consider climate change in its review of the three proposed coal export terminals in Washington and Oregon.
Jennifer Moyer is with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
"The effects of the burning of the coal in Asia, or wherever it may be, is too far removed from our action to be considered as an indirect effect," Moyer says.
The Corps also announced that it will not conduct an area-wide environmental impact assessment. That would look at the cumulative impacts to rail traffic and human and environmental health of building three facilities in the region.
The move is a blow to environmental groups, Indian tribes, and the governors of Oregon and Washington, as well as other politicians who have called for an area-wide assessment.
McGinn voiced concerns about the local impacts of moving coal through the region.
“Coal train traffic will clog the railroads," he said. "Coal dust and diesel exhaust from the engines pollute water and lungs. Neighborhoods along the rail line will see decreased quality of life, and it will have significant negative transportation impacts. “
McGinn’s concerns were countered by Harold Quinn, president and CEO of the National Mining Association. He said the proposed coal terminals are critical to connecting western mines with growing Asian markets, and the review process should go forward as quickly as possible.
"Major risks are posed by timing and capital costs," Quinn said. "This is why an efficient, timely and reliable process for reviewing permit applications are critical for ensuring these long term investments become a reality, and bring enormous economic benefits locally and nationally."
The Army Corps of Engineers is working with the Washington Department of Ecology to oversee the environmental review of the two largest coal export terminals.
However, the Corps did not consult with the Department of Ecology before announcing that it will be limiting the scope of the environmental review.
Copyright 2013 KUOW