Governors implore White House to assess coal export emissions

The governors were referencing a 2010 CEQ draft guidance to federal agencies that asked them, under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), to consider the climate impact of their actions.

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) on Tuesday welcomed the call for a more rigorous environmental review.

Wyden, who chairs the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, has pushed the White House to perform similar assessments for coal exports.

“The governors' call for a national energy export policy is exactly right, and Senator Wyden has been asking the administration to explain its policy since last year. The U.S. should look before it leaps when it comes to exports of energy resources across the board, whether it’s coal, natural gas, or oil,” spokesman Keith Chu told The Hill in a statement.

Wyden wants the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to perform a full environmental impact statement for the proposed Northwest export terminals.

But some Republicans and industry groups say that more stringent test is unprecedented, calling it a tactic to delay exports. They also have objected to the federal government potentially using NEPA to evaluate the climate impact of agency decisions.

Propelled by that possibly, Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), who represents a coal-heavy state, filed an amendment last week to the nonbinding Senate Democrat budget plan that would have blocked the federal government from considering exports' greenhouse gas emissions. The Senate agreed to include it by voice vote.

However, the governors said the U.S. needs a “full public airing of the consequences” of “substantial new investments in coal generation and the infrastructure to transport coal, extending the world’s reliance on this fuel for decades.”

As part of that national discussion, the governors backed Wyden’s and Sen. Lisa Murkowski’s (R-Alaska) concerns that mining firms might be ducking royalties for minerals excavated on federal lands.

The Interior Department is investigating trading practices by mining firms after a request from Wyden and Murkowski, the energy committee’s top Republican.

The lawmakers said mining firms might be low-balling the price of minerals produced on federal lands to minimize royalties paid to the federal government. The firms then sell them via in-house marketers that then allegedly sell the coal abroad at a higher market price.

Chu said Wyden is “glad” that the governors are concerned about “whether coal companies are shortchanging state and federal governments” by not paying their share of federal royalties.

Inslee and Kitzhaber said the charges mean “the federal government must consider whether it has appropriately priced the coal leases that it continues to grant.”

“We cannot seriously take the position in international and national policymaking that we are a leader in controlling greenhouse gas emissions without also examining how we will use and price the world's largest proven coal reserves,” the governors wrote.

— This story was last updated at 11:28 a.m. on March 27.