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Is Gov. Inslee Using Environmental Impact Study to Kill Coal Jobs?

Washington, Oregon governors demand environmental review of coal terminals
Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)

Gov. Jay Inslee and Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber have called for a “broad environmental review” of proposed coal terminals in Washington that could create thousands of jobs.

Tuesday the two governors sent a letter to Obama’s Council on Environmental Quality about coal export terminals proposed for rural Whatcom County. These terminals would serve as export stations for thousands of tons of U.S. coal sold overseas, mostly Asia.

Coal has been in the cross hairs of the government since Obama took office. He admitted prior to the 2008 election he hoped his policies would kill the coal industry in the U.S.

This is from the letter sent by Inslee and Kitzhaber (borrowed from the Bellingham Herald political blog):

We believe the decisions to continue and expand coal leasing from federal lands and authorize the export of that coal are likely to lead to long-term investments in coal generation in Asia, with air quality and climate impacts in the United States that dwarf those of almost any other action the federal government could take in the foreseeable future.”

The proposed Gateway Pacific Terminal would create, according to the project website,  between 3,500 and 4,000 jobs for workers building the facility and another 860 – 1,250 permanent jobs from direct and indirect employment. The permanent direct jobs could pay $75,000 a year and result in as much as $11 million in tax revenue for the state annually.   The project leaders have publicly said they will hire local workers, and are targeting union workers as well. The project has been endorsed by over a dozen labor unions.

At the same time Inslee and Kitzhaber sent their letter to the Obama administration Inslee also sent a memo to the State Ecology Department Director Maria Bellon stressing no decision has been made on whether to allow the terminal:

I emphasize in the letter (to the federal environmental council) that no final decisions have been made on the applications for state permits for the proposed coal export facilities that would be located in our state. Washington state must remain committed to a rigorous, fair and objective process to review these applications, within the scope of our laws. I know you share this commitment and will execute your regulatory role accordingly.”

In 2008, Washington state and the Tri-Cities lost a $2 billion, 600-job-creating uranium enrichment plant Areva wanted to build here because of former Governor Chris Gregoire’s tepid response. In the end, the project went to Idaho where state officials made Areva an offer they couldn’t pass up.

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