This Coal Export Plan Is Dirtier Than the Keystone Pipeline

The Army Corps of Engineers won’t consider climate change when weighing the effects of exporting coal to Asia.
Transporting coal to export cities carries significant environmental consequences. (Photo:Traveler1116/Getty Images)
Jun 21, 2013· 1 MIN READ
A climate blogger, RL is chair of the California Democratic Party’s Environmental Caucus.

The Army Corps of Engineers has announced it won’t seek an area-wide environmental impact statement for the cluster of coal export terminals along the Oregon and Washington coasts.

The terminals, the coal barons’ last best chance to revive an industry dying in America, would enable the vast coal deposits of the Powder River Basin in Wyoming and Montana to be shipped to Asia—a project that would distribute more atmospheric carbon than the Keystone pipeline.

But climate change advocates have joined with Oregon and Washington residents concerned about coal dust and traffic tie-ups caused by mile-long trains. Originally six terminals were planned, but three have been scrapped due to the extraordinary opposition from the affected communities.

While the Army Corps is turning a blind eye to environmental impacts, other “sister” federal agencies and state agencies have noted the need for broad comprehensive review, even though the Corps has gone off on its own.

Michael McGinn, mayor of Seattle, tells TakePart: “While it is disappointing that the Army Corps of Engineers chose to not recognize the local, regional, national and global negative impacts of expanding coal exports to China, we will continue to work with colleagues in the Leadership Alliance Against Coal to call on the decision-makers to turn down a proposal that hurts local transportation needs, negatively impacts public health, damages important cultural sites and would pump more carbon into the atmosphere than the proposed Keystone pipeline.”

Yes, the coal exports are actually worse than the Keystone pipeline. A January 2013 Greenpeace report ranks the coal exports as #3, and the pipeline as #5, in its list of the 14 dirtiest projects on the drawing boards.

Environmental groups are calling for a moratorium on Powder River Basin mining, but they’re being ignored by the Obama administration. Instead, climate activists are focusing on the export terminals as a way to bottleneck the coal.

The Corps had received over 125,000 comments from concerned citizens overwhelmingly opposed to the terminals; yet it chose to announce its decision at a Washington, D.C. hearing. To the Power Past Coal coalition, it’s a sign of the corrupt coal-powered political process.

At the liberal Netroots Nation bloggers’ conference, coal exports were the first concern of the Cascadia Conference. “People wanted to talk coal,” blogger Robert Cruickshank tells TakePart.

The residents aren’t giving up—instead, they’ll focus on the two governors. Kimberly Larson with Power Past Coal tells TakePart: “It is residents and communities that would bear the burden of the impacts from the coal companies’ plan to export coal abroad and thus why tens of thousands have spoken out against coal export,” she says.

“The Army Corps is putting on blinders and keeping residents in the dark, so all eyes are now on Governors Inslee and Kitzhaber and the state agencies in Oregon and Washington to do a full and thorough review of the proposals and shine some daylight on the costs and loss we would see in our region and more broadly.”