If you wondered if funneling most of North America’s increasing coal exports through the Pacific Northwest might have some serious environmental consequences, you will have to wait awhile for answers to the big questions. For example: Will exporting 70 million metric tons of coal annually from Northwest ports by 2017, as some estimates project, contribute significantly to the buildup of atmospheric greenhouse gases and therefore hasten the coming climate catastrophe? Will a sizable increase in coal train traffic significantly degrade air quality in the Northwest?
These issues and others are currently being studied as part of the official environmental assessments for the proposed Gateway Pacific export terminal near Bellingham, and the Millennium Bulk Terminals near Longview. The Department of Ecology has already announced that the review of the projects under the State Environmental Policy Act will include an analysis of exports’ affect on greenhouse gas emissions, including the end use — coal-burning power plants in Asia.