Could Washington be the next big coal exporter?

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by GARY CHITTIM / KING 5 News

NWCN.com

Posted on November 16, 2010 at 10:00 PM

KELSO, Wash. -- Washington State's coal heyday has long past but there is a plan that would bring the first major export terminal to the Southwest corner of the state.

On Tuesday the Cowlitz County Commissioners let the public comment on a plan set forth by Millennium Bulk Logistics, a subsidiary of an Australian Company. The plan is to rail in five million tons of Rocky Mountain coal to a privately owned port in Longview. The comments showed a wide range of opinion. Some thought the idea would be an environmental disaster and some thought it would be a good source of local jobs in a county that needs them.

"Our economy here is very depressed," said Pat Patterson of Kelso, "I think we're close to a 15 percent unemployment rate so any increase in jobs would be great."

But others had environmental concerns regarding the amount of coal rolling through the Columbia Gorge to Longview.  Some were also concerned that supporting China's coal habit could fill the atmosphere with even more greenhouse gasses.

"Commissioners, I fail to understand how a facility that will be exporting five million tons of coal per year can be considered of no significant impact on the environment," said Gail Kaiser, of Kelso.

Millennium's General Manager responded by saying that shipping coal from Washington state would not increase carbon emissions.

"China is going to burn coal," said Joseph Cannon, "whether it burns this coal or some other coal, it's going to burn coal so there is no net increase."

But environmental groups say transporting coal through our state contradicts everything that has been done to move toward a more sustainable and clean fuel economy.

"Washington has a choice," said Jan Hasselman, an attorney in EarthJustice's Northwest office, "We can either be part of the clean energy future and economy, or we can be the export hub in the United States for dirty coal to China."

The Commissioners are expected to vote on the proposal during their regular meeting next Tuesday.

 

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