Washington Farm Bureaus Sees Benefits to Coal Exports (Capital Press)
Farm Bureau adds economics to coal export equation
Washington farmers, the agricultural industry and the state economy will benefit by expanding the Pacific Northwest’s coal export facilities, according to a 26-page report commissioned by the Washington State Farm Bureau.
Steve Globerman, Kaiser Professor of International Business at Western Washington University, wrote the paper to consider how improved transportation and handling facilities would benefit “upstream” industries such as agriculture.
“Opponents of the proposed terminals take issue with coal being transported through the facilities,” he wrote. “That has led some to call for a change in how Washington evaluates export or infrastructure projects, and even for controls on what products we export.”
In his paper, Globerman said previous studies have underestimated the projects’ contribution to the economic health of the state. He outlined “synergies” between exporting coal and transporting other goods:
* Expanded ports and rail carrying capacity will allow shippers to improve efficiency in delivering different kinds of goods.
* Improved efficiency will translate into lower costs for shippers.
* Lower transport costs will increase profit margins for companies using the shipping services.
* Higher profits will stimulate business expansion of business.
* Expansion will result in higher incomes and lower consumer prices.
Meeting Asia’s rising demand for coal “creates a favorable potential for substantially increased trade” in all bulk commodity exports, Globerman said, especially agricultural products. Grain, flour, fruit and forage account for $11.4 billion a year, almost 22 percent of all exports originating in Washington.
“We in the agricultural community have a significant stake in any debate that impacts the future of trade in the Northwest,” Farm Bureau CEO John Stuhlmiller said. “All Washington exporters stand to benefit from new investments that make Washington a more reliable, efficient and competitive gateway for global trade.”
Regarding the environmental concerns that have been raised, he said, “The state’s existing process for evaluating infrastructure projects should remain unchanged.”
Jennifer Moyer from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, speaking before the U.S. House subcommittee on power and energy, said her agency will not conduct an expanded Environmental Impact Statement as requested by Northwest environmental groups.
In a news release, Don Brunell, president of the Association of Washington Business, welcomed the Corps’ decision. “It is important to note that these shipping terminal projects are already subject to environmental review before they can be permitted and, once in operation, they must comply with more than a dozen state and federal environmental laws.”
Legislative leaders support the coal exports.
Senate Republican leader Mark Schoesler, an Eastern Washington wheat farmer, said, “Broad and seemingly limitless reviews for new investments, as some have proposed, would be devastating to economic growth.”
Rep. Brian Blake, D-Aberdeen, chairman of the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee, said, “Increasing exports is the best way to grow our economy and create jobs. To do that, we need efficient and reliable access to global markets. That means encouraging more — not less — investment in our state.”
Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn told the subcommittee he spoke for elected and tribal authorities in Washington and Oregon in objecting to the export terminals, specifically concerning climate change and the kinds of jobs they would create.
The proposed coal export terminals are at Bellingham and Longview, Wash., and Boardman, Ore.
Gateway Pacific Terminal, near Bellingham, is the largest facility, with a capacity of 54 million metric tons a year, of which 48 million tons would be coal.
According to SSA Marine, which would own the facility, construction at full build-out will create 4,400 jobs and provide $92 million over an estimated two-year construction period in tax revenue for state and local services.
Once in full operation, SSA Marine said, Gateway will provide more than $11 million a year in state and local tax revenue and will create 1,250 ongoing jobs.
In early June, the Sierra Club filed suit in federal court against Burlington Northern Santa Fe, which has exclusive access to Gateway Pacific, north of Seattle. The suit claims that coal dust blowing off trains pollute Washington rivers and Puget Sound in violation of the federal Clean Water Act.
Courtney Wallace, spokeswoman for BNSF, said the railroad has been hauling coal to Canada for decades without a single complaint about coal dust until plans to develop West Coast terminals started to come together.
In 2005, BNSF raised concerns about coal dust and its damage to tracks, she said. Investigations found that dust losses decreased farther from the mine. Shippers have reduced the dust loss “greatly,” she said, by changing how they load the coal and topping the coal with a surfactant.
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