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News / Northwest

Wyoming-Montana delegation hopes to warm those cool on coal

Opening ports to export U.S. coal to Asian markets key theme in trip to Washington

By The Associated Press
Published: October 17, 2015, 5:51pm

GILLETTE, Wyo. — A delegation of Wyoming and Montana state lawmakers and others are looking to highlight the economic importance of opening ports to export U.S. coal to Asian markets and counter arguments against the ports during a trip to Washington.

“We hope to have a broader conversation about why these terminals are important not only to Washington state, but to the people and economies of Wyoming and Montana,” said Jocelyn McCabe, a spokeswoman for the Keep Washington Competitive group, which is sponsoring the visit on Monday.

Discussions will include the economic benefits to the western region of the U.S. by exporting the coal, McCabe said.

The visit by the Wyoming and Montana delegations comes just after regulators in Washington delayed completion of their environmental review of a coal export project along the Columbia River near Longview from this year to next year.

The Washington Department of Ecology said more time is needed on a draft environmental impact statement to “ensure reliable and accurate data is used to carry out objective and rigorous” evaluations.

Millennium Bulk Terminals-Longview wants to build a facility to handle up to 44 million metric tons of coal a year.

The coal would arrive on trains from Montana and Wyoming and exported by ships to Asia.

Keep Washington Competitive was formed in the wake of state opposition to coal trains traveling through Washington en route to West Coast ports.

Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead has been vocal about the importance of those ports to the state and has been working to open those transportation lines.

Rep. Ken Esquibel, D-Cheyenne and a member of the Wyoming delegation on the trip, said the main objection to the coal exports has been the perceived danger from coal dust that comes off the full trains traveling through the state.

Esquibel, who is a railroad engineer, said coal dust from trains was an issue 15 or 20 years ago.

“Then, you’d know the coal train was coming because of the dust cloud,” he told the Gillette News Record.

However, new technology and practices, such as spraying coal with diluted mineral oil, has eliminated the coal dust problem, Esquibel said.

“You look at the environmental impacts from where the coal trains are currently running, there are none,” he said.