California to advise Oregon and Washington against coal terminals?

California, long known as being generally anti-coal, with some greenhouse gas control measures on the books to prove it, may try to get the governors of Oregon and Washington to intercede to stop several coal export terminal projects in those two states.

The Renewable Energy Accountability Project (REAP) said in a March 29 statement that it salutes California Assemblyman Das Williams, D-Santa Barbara, for introducing a legislative resolution (AJR 35) to prevent “dirty coal” shipments from West Coast ports.

AJR 35 would urge Congress to restrict coal exports to any nation which has greenhouse gas emissions standards or hazardous air pollutants restrictions weaker than those adopted by the United States. The resolution would also require California Gov. Jerry Brown to inform the governors of Washington and Oregon of the “significant health risks if coal export terminals” proposed for those states.

Exports of coal from the U.S. to Asia have risen 240% to over 13 million tons in 2010, REAP said. Most of this coal is exported to China, which burns 48% of the world’s coal, the largest contributor to global warming pollution, it added. In 2010 China emitted over 8.3 billion tons of global warming pollution, most of which is tied directly to burning coal for electricity generation.

“Just as the United States is taking action to control hazardous air pollution and a global warming emission from coal plants, Big Coal is engaging is a campaign for make the West Coast a colony for toxic coal shipments. Unless we prevent this toxic contamination of the West Coast, all the work to reduce global warming and curb climate change will be in vain,” said Jim Gonzalez, Chair of REAP.

The last dedicated U.S. coal export terminal on the West Coast, LAXT in southern California, was ripped out several years ago due to disuse and environmental group pressure at a time of slumping coal exports. But now, with coal exports to Asia booming again in a potentially sustainable way, major coal producers like Arch Coal (NYSE:ACI) and Peabody Energy (NYSE:BTU) have become involved in export terminal projects in Oregon and Washington. Right now, U.S. coal moving off the West Coast is pretty much railed long distances to existing coal terminals in British Columbia for loading to ship.

The header on the California resolution reads: “This measure urges the President of the United States and the 112th Congress to enact legislation to restrict the waterborne export transshipment of coal for electricity generation to any nation that fails to adopt rules and regulations on the emissions of greenhouse gases and airborne hazardous air pollutants that are at least as restrictive as those adopted by the United States. The measure would urge the Governor of California to inform the Governors of the States of Oregon and Washington of the significant health risks to the people of the Pacific Coast states if large coal export terminals and rail car coal transport expansions are licensed and permitted to operate on or near the coast of the States of Oregon and Washington.”

Said Arch Coal about export growth in its Feb. 29 annual Form 10-K report: “U.S exports increased substantially in 2011 compared to 2010, supported by recovering global economies and continued growth in Chinese and Indian steel markets in particular. According to the [U.S. Energy Information Administration], exports of U.S. coal grew from 81 million tons in 2010 to 107 million tons in 2011. This is a trend we expect to continue as demand for U.S. coal grows in the seaborne market. Interest in access to the coal markets overseas has fueled considerable growth in developing new port capacity in the United States. We, along with other parties, have announced expanded or new port projects on the east coast, the Gulf coast and the west coast.”

Arch owns a 38% interest in Millennium Bulk Terminals-Longview LLC (MBT), the owner of a bulk commodity terminal on the Columbia River near Longview, Wash. MBT is currently working to obtain the required approvals and necessary permits to complete dredging and other upgrades to enable coal, alumina and cementitious material shipments through the brownfield terminal.

About Barry Cassell 20414 Articles
Barry Cassell is Chief Analyst for GenerationHub covering coal and emission controls issues, projects and policy. He has covered the coal and power generation industry for more than 24 years, beginning in November 2011 at GenerationHub and prior to that as editor of SNL Energy’s Coal Report. He was formerly with Coal Outlook for 15 years as the publication’s editor and contributing writer, and prior to that he was editor of Coal & Synfuels Technology and associate editor of The Energy Report. He has a bachelor’s degree from Central Michigan University.