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Army Corps deciding not to do broad environmental investigation of coal trains

Jun 19, 2013 - The Associated Press

SEATTLE -- An official with the Army Corps of Engineers told a Congressional committee Tuesday that the agency doesn't plan a broad environmental study on exporting coal from Wyoming and Montana.

Environmentalists and elected officials in Washington, Oregon and Montana have called on the federal government to look at the cumulative effects of shipping millions of tons of coal via train from Montana and Wyoming to ports on the West Coast.

The coal industry and its backers have pushed aggressively for the new ports, arguing that they could help spur new jobs in parts of the country that are struggling economically. They said the broad environmental review sought by the industry's critics would have treated coal differently than other commodities exported from the region, such as wheat and lumber.

The Corps previously decided to do more limited studies at two ports in Washington state: Gateway Pacific Terminal near Bellingham and Millennium Bulk Terminal at Longview. Federal officials have not decided whether to do a study on a third terminal at Port of Morrow, Ore.

But a top agency official said Tuesday that a more sweeping study to include all three terminals and impacts further afield was not appropriate.

"Many of the activities of concern to the public, such as rail traffic, coal mining, shipping coal outside of U.S. territory, and the ultimate burning of coal overseas, are outside the Corps' control and responsibility," the agency's acting chief of regulatory affairs, Jennifer Moyer, said in testimony submitted to the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

The three export terminals would create more than 11,000 jobs in the Pacific Northwest, said Ross Eisenberg, vice president of energy and resources policy for the National Association of Manufacturers. He said his group welcomed the decision against a broad environmental review targeting coal.

Local officials want Congress to step in and order a review, but that appears unlikely in the Republican controlled House because of strong support for the terminals from lawmakers in mining states such as Wyoming, where Rep. Cynthia Lummis denounced the "anti-coal agenda" of port critics.

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