Coal dust for everybody!
Coal dust for everybody!
Kurt Haubrich

Bad news for climate hawks, coal haters, and Northwesterners who don’t like breathing coal dust: The Army Corps of Engineers says it won’t consider climate change or other big-picture issues when it reviews the environmental impacts of proposed coal export terminals.

Plans are afoot to build or expand coal export facilities at three ports in the Pacific Northwest. The governors of Oregon and Washington, other elected leaders in the states, and enviros have all been calling for the Army Corps to do a comprehensive study considering the wide-ranging, cumulative impacts of a big coal export push through the region — including coal dust, diesel exhaust, railroad and port congestion, road traffic, water pollution, and, yes, climate change.

But this week, the Army Corps said no. From the Associated Press:

[A] top agency official said Tuesday that a more sweeping study to include all three terminals and impacts further afield was not appropriate.

“Many of the activities of concern to the public, such as rail traffic, coal mining, shipping coal outside of U.S. territory, and the ultimate burning of coal overseas, are outside the Corps’ control and responsibility,” the agency’s acting chief of regulatory affairs, Jennifer Moyer, said in testimony submitted to the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

It’s not like “the public” is asking for much — just for the corps to take its responsibilities under the National Environmental Policy Act seriously and review all of the impacts of the planned export rush. Instead, it’s taking a very limited view. From the McClatchy news service:

“The corps will limit its focus on emissions to those associated with construction of the facilities,” Jennifer Moyer … told lawmakers. “The effects of burning of coal in Asia or wherever it may be is too far to affect our action.”

Coal exports have become a big target for climate activists; if they can keep export terminals from being built, that will help keep coal in the ground, because domestic demand for coal has declined markedly in recent years. Activist opposition may have helped kill three of six proposed export terminal proposals in the Northwest since last year.

Why is the Army Corps refusing to do a comprehensive study? In part, it seems to be throwing its hands in the air and saying it would be just too darn hard. Again from McClatchy:

Moyer noted in her testimony that … it was beyond the realm of the agency’s expertise to judge what increased coal shipments would mean for the region.

The Corps will have to work on expanding its expertise if the White House ever actually finalizes its plan to require federal agencies to consider climate change when analyzing the environmental impacts of major projects. It couldn’t hurt the Corps to start practicing now.

Northwest political leaders and enviros plan to keep pushing for broader review. U.S. Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) is pushing too: “I think the Corps is making a big mistake,” he told Moyer, later adding, “I think you should reconsider your position.”