Yesterday we saw two very different takes on coal exports in a petition filed by environmental groups, and a study released by the National Mining Association.

Several environmental groups filed a petition with the Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) asking them “to evaluate the cumulative and related impacts of all proposed coal export terminals in Oregon and Washington in a single, comprehensive, area-wide environmental impact statement (“EIS”) under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). Such a process will allow explicit consideration of the collective impacts of multiple distinct but related decisions.” Their message was clear, we don’t want you to do anything that involves fossil fuels.

The National Mining Association (NMA) released a report prepared by Ernst & Young LLP that explored the economic and jobs benefits of coal exports in 2011. The report estimated the economic value of related coal activity at $16.6 billion in 2011. They also estimated that 25,130 jobs or almost 19 percent of those working at coal mines were directly related to coal exports. The report sent an equally clear message, fossil fuels creates economic activity and jobs.

This petition by the environmental groups is an attempt to slow down the permitting process and to kill these export expansion efforts by delaying permits for years and by requiring huge expenditures by the private and public sectors. Expanding environmental review to include all of the Washington and Oregon proposals and their potential cumulative economic and environmental impacts across the region, the United States and the world, would be a drastic policy shift from current practices that would undermine national goals to boost exports.

A Programmatic EIS for coal export projects in the Pacific Northwest would create a major disincentive for manufacturers to export their products, impacting jobs and economic growth. This is exactly the effect these groups hope to have on these projects, and in fact most any other project that involves fossil fuels.

The NAM sent a letter to the Corps in June of 2012 urging them not to expand its NEPA analysis beyond the individual, project-specific review required under the statute. The NAM believes that by expanding this focus to include the environmental impact of the cargo, and all similar cargo transported through the region, the Corps could be laying the foundation for similar exercises for just about any port or rail expansion to transport any type of cargo. For instance, what if the cargo at issue was not coal but cars, or tractors, or even airplanes? Would the Corps need to perform a Programmatic EIS to determine the lifecycle environmental impact of that cargo? What if the cargo was an agricultural or animal product; should methane emissions be considered? The possibilities are endless and deeply troubling to manufacturers and their employees.

 

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