State representatives tout coal exports at Vancouver event

Rep. Harris: Projects will boost state’s role as a leader in trade

By Aaron Corvin, Columbian port & economy reporter

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Backers of three proposed coal terminals in the Pacific Northwest touted the economic benefits of the export plans during a press conference held in Vancouver on Thursday. The proposals — one in Longview, one near Bellingham and another in Boardman, Ore. — will help position “us as a global leader” in trade, said Washington state Rep. Paul Harris, R-Vancouver, who was joined by at least a dozen business and labor group officials, and other politicians from the region.

The late-morning press conference, held in a small meeting room of the Red Lion Hotel Vancouver at the Quay, got underway after an earlier briefing between representatives of Millennium Bulk Terminals Longview LLC and BNSF Railway, and the political, business and labor leaders who spoke Thursday. The briefing included a presentation by Millennium making a case for its proposed terminal.

Millennium, owned by Ambre Energy and Arch Coal Inc., wants to export up to 44 million metric tons of coal annually to China and other countries. Public meetings to determine how that project should be evaluated from an environmental standpoint will be held across the state this fall, including a tentatively slated meeting on Oct. 9 at the Clark County Event Center at the Fairgrounds in Ridgefield.

Patrick Connor, Washington state director of the National Federation of Independent Business, said a rigorous environmental review process already is in place to examine the coal-export proposals. Changing or adding to the rules would threaten trade and other economic development benefits tied to the export plans.

When asked to comment on critics’ concerns that exporting more coal to China will exacerbate environmental and climate change problems, Connor replied: “Show us the data.”

No one in attendance presented data about those concerns. However, a study released earlier this month in the Proceedings of the National Academies of Sciences concluded that pollution from coal burning will cut the life expectancy of nearly 500 million people living north of the Huai River in China by an average of 5.5 years — all told, a loss of 2.5 billion years of combined life expectancy.

During the press conference, Rep. Harris said there is no perfect energy source and that fossil fuels undergird the U.S. economy, with 68 percent of all the country’s electricity coming from coal, natural gas and petroleum. He said the coal export proposals will build needed infrastructure, lead to many temporary construction and permanent jobs, bolster tax revenues and boost the economies of Clark and Cowlitz counties, where unemployment rates remain high.

An economic impact study conducted for Millennium by Seattle consultant BERK found the company’s coal-export plan would translate into 2,650 construction jobs and 135 permanent, full-time jobs at full build-out. Millennium’s operation would encompass more than 100 acres of a 416-acre site where the company also plans to improve an existing bulk import-export terminal and clean up an environmental mess left by former industrial operators.

More than a year ago, companies were proposing as many as six coal-export terminals in Washington and Oregon. Now there are three: the plan by Millennium in Longview, which Vancouver city officials have estimated could bring up to 16 1.5-mile-long trains through town daily; a proposal near Bellingham where Pacific International Terminals, a subsidiary of SSA Marine Inc., wants to handle 54 million import/export tons of bulk commodities annually, largely coal exports; and the “Morrow Pacific” plan, under which Ambre Energy would haul 8 million tons of coal annually from the Port of Morrow to the Port of St. Helens. Coal would be hauled on covered barges from the Port of Morrow near Boardman, Ore., 190 miles down the Columbia River to the Port of St. Helens, Ore., where it would be loaded onto vessels headed for Asia.

Other attendees of Thursday’s press conference included Rep. Liz Pike, R-Camas, Rep. Dean Takko, D-Longview and Randy Russ, Oregon legislative director for the United Transportation Union.

Aaron Corvin: http://twitter.com/col_econ; http://on.fb.me/AaronCorvin; 360-735-4518; aaron.corvin@columbian.com