Anti-coal politicians want to use the environmental process to more comprehensively analyze the greenhouse gas impact on coal exports. This would not only reduce coal production in the U.S. but it would also set a dangerous precedent for all exports.
The Army Corps of Engineers is analyzing the environmental effects of five export terminals in Oregon and Washington, but some policymakers want the corps to look at the full environmental effects. Senator Ron Wyden (D–OR) is pushing for the corps to conduct a comprehensive environmental review that would address not only the greenhouse gas increases of the export terminal but also impacts on the mining and the rail transportation of coal in Northwest states to the terminal.
But it goes further than that. At a public hearing last April for one of the terminal projects in Oregon, the Environmental Protection Agency recommended that the corps consider the environmental impacts of where the coal is burned in foreign markets such as China, Japan, and South Korea. The corps rightly limited the scope of the review but kept the door open for a more comprehensive review. Governor John Kitzhaber (D–OR) is also pushing for a local, national, and global environmental assessment.
A more comprehensive review that would analyze the lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions would be burdensome and unnecessary. Assuming the need to account for all of the emissions also makes the assumption that greenhouse gas emissions are a problem and something needs to be done about them, which is far from the case. It also assumes that if the U.S. doesn’t ship the coal to China, the coal-fired plant will cease to exist, but that’s also far from the case. There are plans to build nearly 1,200 coal-fired power plants in 59 different countries totaling over 1.4 million megawatts. China and India alone account for 76 percent of the proposals.
Other politicians see the dangerous precedent a full environmental review would set. In a letter to the heads of the corps and the Department of Interior, Senators John Barrasso (R–WY) and Mike Enzi (R–WY) wrote that “expanding the scope of or delaying the environmental review process for new port facilities would create uncertainty for ongoing and future exports of coal from the Powder River Basin as well as Ohio, Virginia, Pennsylvania, Illinois, Kentucky, and West Virginia.”
The danger could extend well beyond coal production and exportation. Why couldn’t a full environmental review expand to automobiles exported to other countries? The emissions generated from the ores mined, the manufacturing of the vehicles, the trucks that transport the cars to cargo ships, the emissions of the cargo ships, and the emissions of the vehicles driven for decades could make it much more costly and difficult to export cars.
As the Administration implements costly and ineffective regulations that are driving out coal generation in the United States, they could also stop coal from leaving the country. Doing so would stop thousands of jobs from being created, halt the construction of over half a billion dollar export terminals, and forgo tens of millions of dollars generated in tax revenue per year.
Implementing a comprehensive environmental review to estimate lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions for coal export facilities is a good way to add additional layers of tape to an already onerous permitting process, keep America’s coal in the ground, and keep the unemployment lines a little bit longer.