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Originally published Monday, March 25, 2013 at 8:46 PM

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2 governors wade into coal-export controversy

Washington’s Jay Inslee and Oregon’s John Kitzhaber want the Obama administration to study the impact of Western coal exports on greenhouse-gas emissions.

Seattle Times staff reporter

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Gov. Jay Inslee has joined with Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber to ask the Obama administration to review the climate-change consequences of leasing and exporting Western coal.

“Increasing levels of greenhouse gases and other pollutants resulting from the burning of coal ... are imposing direct costs on people, businesses and communities in the U.S. and around the world,” said the letter sent Monday to Nancy Sutley, chairwoman of the White House’s Council on Environmental Quality.

The letter also called for the Obama administration to undertake a review of coal lease rates on federal lands to determine if they are too low and helping to subsidize coal exports.

Both Washington and Oregon are doing their own high-profile reviews to decide whether to grant permits for coal-export terminals in Oregon and Washington. For a terminal proposed at Cherry Point in Whatcom County, the state is joining in that review with the federal government and the county.

Speaking with reporters Monday, Inslee’s aides said the governor has not prejudged the permitting issue and that he hopes a federal review won’t cause any additional delays.

“The governor believes that this (exporting coal) is a really significant change that deserves a comprehensive look,” said Ted Sturdevant, Inslee’s executive director for legislative affairs and policy.

The White House on Monday had no comment on the governors’ letter.

Western coal producers, saddled with low prices and weak demand in U.S. markets, are eager to send more coal from the Powder River Basin in Montana and Wyoming to Asia. Much of that coal is on federal lands, but some is on tribal, private or state lands.

The proposals include two export terminals in Washington to be in Cherry Point, which is near Bellingham, and in Longview. There are also proposals for terminals in Oregon.

The prospect of using the Pacific Northwest as a launch point for coal exports has triggered intense controversy in both Oregon and Washington.

Many environmentalists oppose the terminals, and public hearings brought in thousands of comments.

In the joint letter, Inslee and Kitzhaber said the decisions to continue and expand coal leasing from federal lands “are likely to lead to long-term investments in coal generation in Asia, with air quality and climate impacts in the United States that dwarf those of almost any other action that the federal government could take in the foreseeable future.”

On Monday, environmentalists said they were pleased with the governors’ letter.

“We are very encouraged that Governors Inslee and Kitzhaber are raising critical questions on the long-term impacts that coal leasing and exports will have on our communities,” said Beth Doglio, campaign director of the Power Past Coalition, which is trying to block coal exports from the Pacific Northwest.

Proponents of the export terminals have promoted the economic benefits of the coal terminals.

If the U.S. loses out on surging Asian coal markets, they say, other nations will step in to offer that coal.

They oppose any effort to factor greenhouse-gas emissions into permit reviews for the export terminals and said it would set a bad precedent.

“This has all kinds of implications. Wheat, lumber and planes. Do we really want to analyze how products are used before we export them?” said Lauri Hennessey, spokeswoman for the Alliance for Northwest Jobs and Exports, which supports the terminal projects.

Hal Bernton: 206-464-2581 or hbernton@seattletimes.com

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