U.S. Senator Urges Caution In Plans For Coal Exports

A tumbling domestic coal market has prompted many coal companies, including St. Louis-based Peabody Energy, to tap international markets for coal sales. But one U.S. senator is urging the Obama administration to first study the local and global environmental impact of ramping up U.S. coal exports.

In a letter to the U.S. Interior Department and Army Corps of Engineers, Oregon Sen. Jeff Merkley requested the departments to conduct a review of proposed export facilities in Oregon and Washington.

“We should not make public policy decisions that could constitute significant moves toward a more coal-dependent future without gathering and publicly disclosing the best possible information and engaging in the appropriate analysis,” Merkley wrote.

Merkley’s list of potential concerns included pollution from coal dust and diesel fumes, water quality risks and damage to endangered species and wildlife habitats. He also cited worries that small towns could be “divided in half” by coal train traffic.

In addition to local issues, Merkley asked that the departments look into the global impact of shipping more coal abroad. He noted a need to review global climate implications from carbon emissions driven by coal use and potentially disruptive effects on worldwide energy markets from channeling cheap coal to Asian markets. Specifically, Merkley mentioned the potential of Asian countries becoming dependent on coal, slowing the growth of cleaner energy technologies in the region.

A consortium of major coal companies, including Peabody, have proposed up to six new export facilities along the coasts of Oregon and Washington, according to E&E Publishing, which covers U.S. environmental and energy policy.

Peabody—the largest private coal company in the world—is also a key player in pressing for the Gateway Pacific Terminal in Whatcom County, Washington. The Gateway terminal, which would enable Peabody to export up to 24 million tons of coal annually, is currently under review with the state of Washington.

The terminal plan brought out more than 800 people to a community meeting in March to discuss environmental considerations of the project, according to the Seattle Times. E&E Publishing noted the project has been met with “skepticism and outright opposition” from those worried about pollution and traffic congestion.

More recently and in a different region of the country, Peabody announced a deal with Kinder Morgan to ship up to 7 million tons of coal through Kinder Morgan’s terminals along the Gulf Coast.

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