As we mentioned in Fizz this morning, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Regulatory Program Acting Chief Jennifer Moyer outraged and disappointed environmentalists when she said, in testimony before the U.S. House subcommittee on energy and power, that the Corps did not plan to do a comprehensive environmental study of the impact of transporting millions of tons of coal from Wyoming to West Coast ports on their way to China—something environmentalists and Democrats in Washington state, including Gov. Jay Inslee and Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn, have been demanding.
McGinn, along with Climate Solutions director KC Golden, testified before the energy subcommittee in D.C. this morning. In his testimony (as written), McGinn argued that coal train traffic would "clog our railroads, ports, and roads, risk our families’ health, pollute our air and water, hurt local economies and contribute to climate change," McGinn said, "We need an area-wide Environmental Impact Statement to evaluate the local, regional and global impacts of coal export."
That's exactly what the Corps is saying they are unwilling to do. Instead, Moyer said, the Corps would do individual evaluations of each proposed coal terminal without considering their larger environmental impacts.
"The potential change in rail traffic patterns is beyond the control and expertise of the Corps, and requires no involvement from the Corps," Moyer said. "Similarly, the possible future shipment of coal by oceangoing vessels across the Pacific Ocean beyond the limits of U.S. navigable waters, and the possible future off-loading, distribution, and burning of coal in Asia are attenuated and far removed from the activities regulated by the Corps at any of the three shipping facilities. ...
"The Corps has determined that neither a Programmatic nor an area-wide/regional [environmental impact statement] are appropriate when considering the proposed permits."
Translation: The Corps does not believe it needs to do a thorough environmental review of the controversial coal-train proposal.
After his testimony, McGinn fielded a barrage of questions from West Virginia Republican David McKinley (R-1, WV), who set the tone by demanding that McGinn explain why he claimed the coal-train project would benefit from "subsidies."
(McGinn was referring to the fact that local, state, and federal taxpayers pay for improvements to freight mobility, local traffic and economic mitigation, and other community impacts; in addition, the federal government owns much of the mining operations that are the source of the coal in question.)
"I've got a copy of the report, and I haven’t found the word 'subsidy' at all—can you show me where I’d find the word subsidy at all?" McKinley asked, before quickly cutting McGinn off. "There's no subsidy. You know that!"
McGinn wouldn't be bullied in the next round of questioning, though. Rep. McKinley said McGinn's initial testimony "sent a shiver up my spine" when he said we should "keep our coal in the ground where it belongs."
"Did you really mean that?" McKinley asked, feigning incredulity.
"Yes, I did," McGinn responded.
"You believe America should not be mining coal."
"The difference is that we have taken huge quantities of fossil fuels from the earth with potentially devastating impacts for our future—"
At that point, the conversation dissolved into nonsense, with McKinley avowing doubt about whether climate change is "caused by man" and lecturing McGinn on Seattle's supposed status as a more violent city than 94 percent of the cities in the country. "That's not true—" McGinn said, before again being cut off. Given the power imbalance between a public commenter from out of town and a pro-coal-train Congressman obviously intent on making speeches, though, McGinn more than held his own.
In a statement this morning, Beyond Coal spokeswoman Cesia Kearns said, “It is a mistake for the Army Corps to leave us all in the dark about the real-life impacts coal export would cause across the West. But if the Corps won’t undertake an area-wide review, we certainly expect them to follow the law, and for our state leaders and agencies to step up and for them all to do a full and thorough review of the all impacts at each of the proposed coal export terminals."