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Seattle mayor seeks to stop coal shipments; Idaho would be impacted

Seattle mayor seeks to stop coal shipments; Idaho would be impacted

Idaho Freedom Foundation staff
May 1, 2013
[post_thumbnail]Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn is against exporting coal from seaports in Washington and Oregon, which impacts railways running through northern Idaho.

The city of Seattle has undertaken efforts to shut down the coal industry, and the accompanying fallout could have a fiscal impact on Idaho.

According to the Associated Press, Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn has created the Leadership Alliance Against Coal. The group includes the mayor himself, along with Native American leaders from the Tulalip Tribes, Swinomish Tribal Community and Lummi Nation; other elected officials from the cities of Seattle, Spokane, Edmonds and Marysville; and officials from Washington’s King County.

On an annual basis, ports in the states of Washington and Oregon receive approximately 140 million tons of coal each year that are delivered by rail from the Powder River Basin region in the states of Montana and Wyoming. The railways utilized to move the coal includes rail lines in northern Idaho.

Seattle has been seeking to prohibit coal from being sent to its port, where it is primarily shipped to China. But now with the mayor having formed his coalition, the effort has expanded to try to prevent the exporting of coal from other seaports in Washington and Oregon.

“Our goal is to not have to see one-and-a-half-mile long coal trains,” McGinn spokesperson Aaron Pickus told IdahoReporter.com. “We’re working hard to shut down our last coal plant in the state of Washington, and we want to be done with shipping coal altogether.”

IdahoReporter.com asked Pickus if the coalition had sought input from coal industry stakeholders, or conducted any studies on the fiscal impact to other coal producing states, if indeed coal shipments were prohibited in Oregon and Washington ports.

“That’s a little above our pay grade,” Pickus replied. “We don’t oversee foreign trade policy, or interstate commerce for that matter. What we do know, however, is that the transport and consumption of coal poses public health risks, and it needs to stop.”

Pickus also noted that Mayor McGinn is “fully supportive” of global trade with China, and has traveled there several times in an effort to enhance trade relations.

“We’ve seen this type of thing before,” said Mike Tracy, of the Boise-based Tracy Consulting firm. Tracy worked on public relations campaigns from 2010 to 2012 in support of the trucking industry, as it was shipping oversized loads of oil drilling equipment from the Port of Lewiston, Idaho, into Montana and Canada.

“Environmentalist groups called them ‘megaloads,’ and they did everything imaginable to stop the trucks simply because they don’t like the petroleum industry,” Tracy told IdahoReporter.com. “And like oil, coal is a carbon-based energy resource, and those who don’t like carbon-based energy will do pretty much anything to prevent the use of this natural resource.”

Ellis Hire of the Idaho Public Utilities Commission told IdahoReporter.com that “that this could have a fiscal impact on our state.” Hire oversees inspections and program operations for rail systems in Idaho.

He said “our agency doesn’t seek to regulate what types of products are transported. We have protocols in place for hazardous materials, but beyond that we don’t try to dictate what can be transported on our railways. If coal shipments via train are actually shut down, this would presumably mean fewer tariffs being collected in Idaho, and that would negatively impact our state revenues.”

Pickus told IdahoReporter.com that he did not know what the next actions of the Leadership Alliance Against Coal might entail.

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