Northwest leaders: coal export proposal deserves environmental review

This post contributed by Terence Houston, ESA Science Policy Analyst A proposal to develop new marine coal export terminals in Oregon and Washington, which could ship between 75 million and 175 million tons of Powder River Basin coal annually to Asia, has drawn concern from environmentalists in the region. The National Wildlife Federation and the Association of Northwest Steelheaders have released a report outlining various environmental concerns to local communities brought on by coal production in the region. The six export terminals would be located in Cherry-Point, Grays Harbor, Longview, Port of St. Helens, Port of Morrow and Coos Bay. In the report, entitled “The True Cost of Coal,” the authors state that the proposed projects would pose threats to public health and set back decades of successful environmental recovery efforts in the region.  Among the detriments cited in the report are air pollution from coal dust, noise pollution and congestion from increased train traffic, increased risk of invasive species from tanker traffic as well as mercury deposition and ocean acidification, which could lead to the loss of salmon and steelhead, critical to the regional economy. A number of local communities and organizations, including Oregon Physicians for Social Responsibility and Oregon’s Environmental Justice Task Force and the American Indian Yakama Nation tribe, have called upon Governor John Kitzhaber (D-OR) to delay any coal-export projects until a comprehensive health impact assessment is completed. The effort is being pushed by mining corporations, including Peabody Energy, Arch Coal, Cloud Peak Energy and Ambre Energy North America. The Alliance for Northwest Jobs and Exports, which advocates for the aforementioned entities, contends that “the proposed terminals would create thousands of new jobs and generate tens of millions in additional tax revenue for schools and other services in Washington and Oregon. The group’s website further maintains that the six proposed coal export terminals “can be built in a safe and environmentally responsible way.” The issue has garnered attention from lawmakers on Capitol Hill. Rep. Jim McDermott (D-WA) has introduced H.R. 6202, the True Cost of Coal Act. The bill imposes a $10 per ton tax on coal and establishes a Coal Mitigation Trust Fund to mitigate potential negative environmental impacts of coal transportation. The bill is unlikely to advance in the Republican-controlled House. Reps. Cynthia Lummis (R-WY) and Denny Rehberg (R-MT), both supporters of Powder River Basin coal production, have been joined by leading Republicans and some Democrats in calling on the Obama administration to initiate project-specific permit reviews rather than the broad environmental impact assessments environmental advocates endorse. Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) has issued a letter requesting that the Bureau of Land Management and...

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Deregulation of protections against invasive species can have dire long-term economic consequences

This post contributed by Terence Houston, ESA Science Policy Analyst The debate over the economic consequences of federal regulations intended to curb the prevalence of invasive species continues on Capitol Hill. During a Sept. 14 hearing of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, Republican committee leaders released a report entitled “Broken Government: How the Administrative State has Broken President Obama’s Promise of Regulatory Reform.” In his opening statement, Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-CA) asserted that currently, “the regulatory process is broken, being manipulated and exploited in an effort to reward allies of the Obama administration such as environmental groups, trial lawyers, and unions.” The committee report outlines several regulations that Republicans believe have not undergone a sufficient cost-benefit analysis, including a proposed rule from the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) that would designate the Burmese python and eight other snake species as “injurious” and consequently, illegal to transport across state lines. The committee heard testimony from David Barker, a herpetologist and owner of Vida Preciosa International, Inc., a snake-breeding business specializing in pythons and boas. He is also a member of the U.S. Association of Reptile Keepers. Barker said that FWS’s regulation “lacks a scientific basis, being based on a single flawed study that has not withstood scientific review.” Of the establishment of Burmese Pythons in the Florida everglades, he contends “there has been no empirical evidence that their presence has threatened the ecosystem or caused any serious disruption.” Barker asserted that the regulation “threatens as many as a million law-abiding American citizens and their families with the penalty of a felony conviction for pursuing their livelihoods, for pursuing their hobby, or for simply moving with their pet to a new state.” In his opening statement, Committee Ranking Member Elijah Cummings (D-MD) noted, “with all due respect to our witnesses from the Association of Reptile Keepers, repealing a so-called ‘job-killing’ regulation to allow more pythons, boa constrictors and anacondas into the United States is not the kind of bold, bipartisan solution Americans are looking for to help the economy.” Committee Democrats also put forward several letters that countered many of the arguments of Barker and Chairman Issa regarding invasive pythons. Among these was a joint letter spearheaded by several national and Florida conservation groups including The Nature Conservancy, the Florida Wildlife Federation and the Everglades Foundation that focused specifically on the threat posed by Burmese pythons. The letter states that “monitoring has shown that state and federally threatened and endangered species, including the Wood Stork and Key Largo woodrat, are already being predated by these large constrictors. Because these predatory snakes are cryptic, highly productive and can take advantage...

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