Wyo. gov’s visit to Canada all about coal

CHEYENNE, Wyo. — Looking for ways to export coal mined in Wyoming, Gov. Matt Mead said he will tour port facilities in British Columbia as part of a weeklong trade trip to Canada.

Mead will meet with provincial leaders and talk to coal and rail representatives during the visit beginning on Wednesday.

Wyoming is the nation’s leading coal-producing state, but state officials are concerned about falling domestic demand as a result of global warming concerns and new federal regulations on coal-burning power plants.

Some see the need for more power generation by growing Asian economies as an ideal market for U.S. coal producers. But sending coal overseas requires West Coast ports.

Mining companies want to ship coal through ports in Oregon and Washington. However, opponents of coal trains in that region have raised concerns about dust, congestion and climate change.

British Columbia has ports that already ship U.S. coal, and Mead’s trip sends a message that Wyoming is willing to look elsewhere to get its coal to other markets.

“I’m not trying to play one region off another, but we have opportunities both within the United States, of course, and Canada,” Mead said.

A port near Vancouver, British Columbia, expects to ship up to about 30 million tons of coal this year, according to its operator, Westshore Terminals Investment Corp. In 2011, about 8 million tons of U.S. coal was shipped through the port.

Mead noted that residents in the Pacific Northwest and British Columbia have similar concerns about coal shipments.

“I don’t think we as a state can just say those aren’t legitimate concerns,” Mead said. “I think we have to learn what those concerns are and try to address them the best way possible.”

Five ports are being proposed in Washington and Oregon to ship as much as 140 million of tons of coal a year from Montana and Wyoming’s Powder River basin. The loads would travel by rail through communities such as Spokane and Seattle before being loaded onto ships bound for Asia.

Proponents say the coal exports will create jobs and generate millions of dollars in tax revenues.

But many opponents in the Northwest have expressed concern about heavy train traffic, coal dust from the trains, noise and other disturbances, as well as emissions from burning the coal.

Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn and other city and tribal leaders have formed a coalition to oppose coal trains and coal exports in the region.

Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber also expressed reservations about environmental impacts of coal shipments and the effects on global air quality and greenhouse gas production from burning it.

The governors of Washington and Oregon want the federal government to evaluate the effects of greenhouse gases that would be emitted by exporting U.S. coal to Asia.

Mead, however, said such an evaluation would be inappropriate under federal law.

He said it is disingenuous for the United States to deny developing countries coal when U.S. power generation relies heavily on coal-fired plants for electricity.

“Our coal … is low on sulfur, lower on mercury, and the coal companies and the railroads have continually stressed to me, in addition to addressing environmental issues, that for the future of coal we have to look at being able to export off the West Coast,” he said. “I’m trying to make headway on that.”

Mead’s trip to Canada also includes visiting oil sands production fields in Alberta and meeting with Canadian firms that do business in Wyoming.

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