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View From the Hill: Common sense versus the government

By Grace Boatright, National Grange Legislative Director (View From The Hill Blog 3/20/13)

  MARCH 20, 2013 --

Our Granges and friends in the Northwest part of the country have a debate brewing regarding an expansion of export facilities that directly impacts our community. The situation is pretty simple: there are five proposed coal export facilities for the Pacific Northwest and there is a growing group who oppose the facilities for one reason or another. However, supporting the coal export facilities is a no brainer for the agriculture community.

First, the investments provided by coal shippers will pay for new agricultural export capacity.  Without coal, the expanded capacity won’t exist.

Second, additional rail activity brings much needed upgrades to the railroad system. Farmers in the area depend on the rail service to move more than $15 billion worth of produce. Washington State has identified $2 billion in investment needs; unfortunately, 90% of that investment is unfunded.  The agriculture community knows that profitable rail lines are the best way to maintain low-cost access to markets.

Third, opponents of the projects are attempting to greatly expand environmental reviews for exports and infrastructure investments.  Specifically, in an effort to stop the projects, they’re seeking to include issues like the greenhouse gas emissions of the products being exported.  This would be disastrous for many industries, including agriculture.

Sen. Blanche Lincoln, former chair of the Senate Agriculture Committee, recently wrote Politico on this issue.  In the piece, Senator Lincoln describes the Army Corps’ tactics as, “an onerous review that would attempt to analyze the cumulative regional environmental impact of these [coal export] facilities and for every use of everything that is shipped from them: a virtually impossible task that, if followed to its logical end, could result in findings conceivably so inaccurate that they would be utterly useless.”

The Corps seems to be getting the message.  This week, they’ve unofficially indicated that it’s unlikely they’ll expand the review process.  Corps officials noted each terminal “is different and that not every one of them will raise the same issues.” This microscopic approach to the coal exports terminal gives some hope that federal studies will not inhibit economic prosperity…but the jury is still out. 

The future of the export terminals is important for Northwest ag producers that will benefit from these projects, but the Corps pending decision on environmental reviews is important for the ag community nationwide. In reality, this is just another classic case of common sense versus the federal government. Let’s hope the former wins out for this one.

-Grace Boatright
National Grange Legislative Director
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