LONGVIEW, Wash. -- Millennium Bulk Terminals’ proposed $643 million coal export project is a good fit for the Longview-Kelso area, Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead said on the second day of his visit here to pitch the project.

“It’s not just coal. There’s lumber; there’s gypsum board on the Oregon side. It is an industrial area. That’s how it was designed, and the coal terminal seems to fit in with the other parts of the industrial area,” Mead said during a conference with The Daily News’ Editorial Board.

Wyoming, the least populous state in the country, leads the nation in coal production, mining on average around 400 million tons of coal annually. If approved, the Millennium coal dock would ship about 44 million tons – or about 10 percent of Wyoming’s current level of output — to markets in Asia.

For those who would prefer to see the United States take a lead role in weaning consumers off coal-produced energy, Mead says it’s just not feasible. To create the same amount of energy generated now by burning Wyoming coal, wind turbines would have to cover all of Wyoming and half of Colorado; there would be 16 nuclear plants in every Wyoming county or solar farms covering half the state, Mead said.

“That’s not going to happen, nor is it desirable,” Mead said.

Mead, who rejects the scientific community’s findings that humans are causing global climate change, minimized environmentalists’ concerns about the amount carbon dioxide, sulfur or mercury that coal from the Millennium project would release into the air when it is burned. He cited the relatively small size of the project and massive amounts of coal being burned every day.

“What we’re talking about coming out of here is a fraction of what China alone is using and burning. In terms of impact, it is small potatoes,” Mead said.

Millennium’s potential contribution to Asian coal use may be small, but its impact on carbon emissions would be a big deal, said Eric de Place, policy director for Seattle’s Sightline Institute.

“If you consider just the carbon dioxide emitted from the coal proposed for export from Longview, that’s roughly equivalent to all of the carbon dioxide released by every activity in state of Washington on an annual basis. That project alone has a climate impact equivalent to the entire rest of the state. That’s every steel mill, every driver, every power plant,” de Place said.

Burning coal in Asia would also result chemicals such as mercury and sulfur being pushed by winds and ocean currents back to North America, de Place said.

“The question is how much of it is going to stay over there and how much of it is going to come back,” de Place said.

Mead says the debate shouldn’t be a choice between coal and no coal but what kind of coal Asian markets will use. Mead said he would rather see China using American coal, which burns cleaner and is mined under more rigorous environmental rules than coal from other potential suppliers, Indonesia being most prominent.

He said more money needs to be invested into reducing the ecological impacts of burning coal.

“Coal is abundant. It’s a valuable resource. To the extent you think it needs improvement, let’s put some money into finding those solutions,” Mead said.

Mead cautioned that coal companies in his state had realistic expectations going into the permitting process, but ongoing delays could lead those companies to target more coal-friendly areas.

“Coal companies -- any industry -- want reasonable rules and regulations that will allow a natural progression of innovative technology. That can be done,” Mead said. “But it can’t be done if the bar is so high you can’t build a coal-fired plant. Who’s going to invest in the technology and innovation?”

On Tuesday, Mead toured the 416-acre Millennium site and held a private meeting with legislators from Washington’s 19th and 20th districts. Wednesday, he met privately with city and county officials, including Cowlitz County Commissioner Mike Karnofski.

“I’m really pleased the governor took the time to come and visit,” Karnofski said. “I pointed out to him the two issues I hear about coal... it really comes down to dust and transportation congestion. I think the dust issue is solvable, but the transportation issue is a significant issue.”

If built to full capacity, the Millennium terminal would be served by eight coal trains per day, each over a mile in length. Karnofski suggested that Mead encourage the railroads to help solve the congestion problem.

“Get Burlington Northern to participate and review with local cities and counties to work on the issue of traffic congestion and transportation. He said he understood,” Karnofski added.

While Mead believes there are solutions out there for rail issues, he said the answer won’t come from just one source.

“It’s something we need to work through with the coal companies, the railroads and, importantly, the mayors and commissioners. They’ve got a say in this that isn’t just about commerce,” Mead said.

Contact Assistant Managing Editor David Mayberry at 307-266-0633 or david.mayberry@trib.com. Follow him on Twitter@David_Mayberry.

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