Wyoming Governor Makes Personal Appeals To Inslee, Brown For Coal Ports

May 18, 2015

Wyoming Governor Matt Mead is in the midst of his second tour in less than a year to drum up support to export coal through the Northwest.

Mead made a personal appeal to Washington Governor Jay Inslee Monday and he visits Oregon Governor Kate Brown Tuesday.

Wyoming is the nation's top coal-producing state. Mining companies there and in Montana want to export to Asia to offset weak domestic demand. But proposals to open coal export terminals along the Columbia River or on Puget Sound are going nowhere fast.

Wyoming's Republican governor met privately with Democrat Inslee to push for action.

"You can quote me saying he's a nice guy,” Inslee said. “We had a nice talk."

But Inslee indicated afterward no agreements on coal resulted. Earlier this year, Governor Mead signed legislation that allows Wyoming to finance if necessary the construction of an out-of-state coal export terminal.

Wyoming Infrastructure Authority Director Lloyd Drain said the Pacific Northwest is the "most attractive" choice for where to build that because of proximity.

Some coal already moves from the Powder River Basin through the Pacific Northwest to an export terminal at the Port of Vancouver in British Columbia. But in an interview from Cheyenne, Drain said existing West Coast port capacity to ship coal to Asia is maxed out.

Drain said state officials in Wyoming are "non-discriminatory supporters" of new export terminal proposals. The two largest projects in the permitting process in the Northwest are the Gateway Pacific Terminal near Bellingham, Washington, and the Millennium Bulk Terminals project in Longview, Washington.

"Those two projects would represent the ability to double U.S. coal exports," Drain said.

Environmental and tribal groups have harshly condemned both projects on multiple grounds. Objections include pollution from coal dust, increased train traffic and the climate effects of burning the coal at its destination.

Inslee is well known as a champion of taking action on climate change. However, he has avoided taking a public stance on specific coal export terminals so as not to prejudice the state's consideration of construction permits.

Mead previously visited Washington state last June to tour the Millennium terminal site in Longview. At that time, he said he would prefer to see China buy American coal, which he said burns more cleanly than coal mined from most other places.

On Monday afternoon, Mead interrupted his drive between Olympia and Salem to make another stop at the Millennium offices in Longview. Millennium VP for Public Affairs Wendy Hutchinson said Mead mainly dropped in to get an update on the export terminal project and express his support.