Trump administration officials are mulling allowing coal exports from military bases and other federal properties along the U.S. West Coast, an idea that drew swift condemnation from political leaders in the region.
“This reckless, harebrained proposal undermines national security instead of increasing it, and it undermines states’ rights to enforce necessary health, safety and environmental protections in their communities,” Washington state’s Democratic governor, Jay Inslee, said in an emailed statement. “The men and women who serve at our military bases are there to keep our country safe, not to service an export facility for private fossil fuel companies.”
The idea is one of several being considered by administration officials as they seek to make good on President Donald Trump’s promise to propel a “new era of American energy dominance.” The Trump administration also has sought to use a United Nations climate fund to promote the construction of coal-fired power plants in other countries, which could help foster demand for U.S. supplies of the fossil fuel.
In an interview with the Associated Press, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke stressed that U.S. national security interests are served when foreign allies have access to affordable energy — and accomplishing that may require the use of “some of our naval facilities” and “some of our federal facilities on the West Coast.”
Interior Department spokeswoman Faith Vander Voort did not respond to the specific details in the AP report but stressed that “the president and secretary are committed to the men and women of coal country.”
“It should come as no surprise that Secretary Zinke has put a number of options on the table to revitalize these communities and achieve American energy dominance,” Vander Voort said by email.
Zinke didn’t say what government properties could serve as export terminals for coal, according to the Associated Press, though he invoked the former Naval Air Facility Adak in Alaska as a possible launching pad for the state’s bounty of natural gas. State officials and oil companies extracting crude on the North Slope have for years sought to find ways to commercialize Alaska’s abundant natural gas. Now, they may be closer than ever, as federal regulators analyze Alaska Gasline Development Corp.’s plans to build a facility that could liquefy Alaskan gas and export it to China.
A Commerce Department representative said the agency is working closely with the Interior and Energy departments on a number of fronts to advance the administration’s export agenda — and this is one such effort. The department’s role in the discussions is somewhat limited because it does not control or permit the facilities that would be involved.
The effort could allow the Trump administration to circumvent political opposition in the Pacific Northwest, where several private efforts to build coal export facilities have been stymied by concerns about encouraging climate change. For instance, Lighthouse Resources Inc., has spent more than six years pursuing permits to build an export terminal in Longview, Washington, that could ship as much as 44 million metric tons of coal and other bulk products each year to Asia. The project was blocked last year when Washington state’s ecology department denied a critical Clean Water Act permit, citing concerns about air quality and increased railroad traffic to serve the site.
“The federal government should be doing more to invest in clean, renewable energy, not threatening the health and safety of Oregonians by propping up dirty energy investors,” said Senator Ron Wyden, a Democrat from Oregon. “This administration is not only disregarding the realities around climate change, it’s trampling on local communities that have already rejected such proposals.”