It was only a matter of time before a local leader willing to look at the big picture on coal exports stood up and said, in so many words: Wait a minute, are we sure about this?
Gov. John Kitzhaber did just that last week, when he asked federal agencies to conduct an integrated review of several proposals to turn Oregon and Washington ports into Asian supply hubs for American coal.
Kitzhaber questioned whether mile-long coal trains from Montana and Wyoming wouldn’t jam up and pollute the region with unhealthy coal dust and diesel particulates. More significantly, he asked the Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to explain how boosted coal exports to Asia fits “the larger strategy of moving to a lower carbon future.”
That’s a polite way of expressing frustration that Oregon could find itself helping China and others become more coal-dependent while the state works hard to cut its own greenhouse gas emissions by phasing coal out.
The governor is timely with his request. Federal agencies should undertake the full reviews before green-lighting any proposals for Northwest coal ports, a list running from Coos Bay to Bellingham, Wash., on the coast and inland to Boardman on the Columbia River. Among them, reports The Oregonian’s Scott Learn, the ports could bring more than 60 coal trains a day through the region, while boosting Columbia River coal-barge traffic by 70 percent.