Army Corps: No environmental study for Northwest coal terminals

Jun 18, 2013

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has dealt a big blow to environmental groups fighting proposed coal export terminals in the Northwest.

During testimony before Congress, an official with the agency said the Corps is not planning a broad environmental study on the impact of coal exports, meaning the proposed terminals' effects on climate change won’t be considered during the review process.

Opponents of the planned export terminals say their environmental impact goes beyond the basic construction and local operations.  Mile-long coal trains rumbling through the region would spew toxic dust and clog traffic, they say.

In March, the governors of Washington and Oregon wrote a letter to the Obama administration, urging the federal government to conduct a “thorough examination” of the impact on greenhouse gases and air quality if the coal terminals are built.

But Jennifer Moyer, the acting head of regulation for the Army Corps of Engineers, made it clear her agency won’t conduct such a review. She told the House Committee on Energy and Commerce that rail traffic, coal mining, and burning of coal overseas are outside of the Corps' control and responsibility.

“These activities are too far attenuated and distant from the proposed activities being evaluated by the Corps to be considered effects of the Corp’s permit actions,” she said. She added the three proposed terminals will be considered separately.

House Democrats on the committee, including Cathy Castor of Florida, questioned the Corps' interpretation.

“Shouldn’t someone, some agency consider the larger impacts of expanding coal exports on climate change?” she asked.

The pro-trade Northwest Alliance for Jobs and Exports welcomed the news. The group had argued previously that if coal gets a cradle to grave analysis in permitting, the implications for all kinds of exports, from corn to electronics, could be devastating.