Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead heads to Washington state next week to push for access to ocean ports to allow export of Wyoming coal to Asia even as many politicians and residents in the Northwest voice increasing concern about the effects of burning coal on global warming.
Mead, a Republican who says he's skeptical global warming is caused by humans, has made trade missions to Asia and is eager to start exports from Wyoming, the nation's leading coal-producing state.
Wyoming is casting about for new international coal markets in the face of flagging domestic demand. New coal plant construction in the United States has sputtered to a halt, sandbagged by the combination of cheap natural gas and tough new federal coal emissions standards.
"Expanding markets for Wyoming products is a priority I have engaged for some time," Mead said Wednesday. "I know about the demand in South Korea, Taiwan and Japan for our coal. Increasing exports, including coal, will lead to economic growth and more jobs."
Mead intends to be in Washington state next Tuesday and Wednesday to meet with legislators and business leaders and to tour the Millennium Bulk Terminals, a planned coal port on the Columbia River near Longview, Washington.
Renny MacKay, spokesman for Mead, said Wednesday the governor doesn't intend to visit on the trip with Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, a Democrat who has expressed concerns about the prospect of exporting coal to Asia through his state. MacKay said the two governors have discussed the coal export issue at past meetings.
Inslee said recently he wants to wean electrical utilities in his state entirely off of coal-generated electricity from plants in Wyoming and Montana.
Inslee's office stated Wednesday that Mead hadn't asked for a meeting with Inslee and that Inslee had learned of Mead's trip to Washington on Wednesday. "Gov. Inslee has been clear that his focus for Washington is creating jobs in the clean energy economy while combating carbon pollution," said Jaime Smith of the governor's office.
Last year, Inslee and Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber asked the White House to require a full examination of the effect on global air quality of shipping up to 140 million tons of coal a year from the Powder River Basin in Wyoming and Montana overseas. Noting the coal exports could result in 240 million tons per year of carbon dioxide emissions, the Democratic governors wrote it is "hard to conceive that the federal government would ignore the inevitable consequences of coal leasing and coal export."
In response, Mead fired off a letter to the White House of his own last year, saying it would be inappropriate to try to stretch federal environmental laws to encompass an analysis of what would happen in other countries half-way around the world. MacKay said Mead hasn't received a response.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is studying the prospect of using the Millennium Bulk Terminals for exporting up to 44 million metric tons of coal per year. Mead submitted comments last year saying the agency shouldn't consider "world-wide greenhouse gas emissions" in its study.
Mead has said repeatedly that he's skeptical that global is caused by humans. He says there's no doubt, however, that tough federal emission standards on new coal plants are hurting the coal industry.
"Science changes," Mead said earlier this year. "And it's odd to me that scientists say 'never be skeptical,' because it was in the mid-70s when they were saying we're sunk because we're going to have global climate cooling."
Jonathan Downing, executive director of the Wyoming Mining Association, said Wednesday the state's mining industry appreciates Mead's efforts in heading to Washington state.
"I met a few weeks ago with a delegation from Taiwan, and they've got new technologies that they're looking at implementing with coal-fired power plants." Downing said. "And they need access to good, clean Wyoming coal."
Downing said he expects the coal export proposal will see an unprecedented review by local and state governments of its potential impacts. "What we do know is that Wyoming's coal is a cleaner-burning coal than coal from other parts of the world," he said. "These countries are going to be using coal for power generation — whether it comes from Wyoming or elsewhere. I think once they've looked at this and had a rational dialogue, I think they'll come to the conclusion that it's a good, viable option."
Gayle Kiser, a Longview resident who is part of Landowners and Citizens for a Safe Community, opposes the export project.
"I can understand the Wyoming governor's stance on this since it's to his state's benefit," Kiser said Wednesday. "But it's a detriment to the state (Washington) and everywhere else that they're going to burn this coal.
"I'm not doing this for myself; I'm doing this for my grandchildren. I'm doing it in the hope that we'll leave breathable air and drinkable water," Kiser said.