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Coal Exports Divide Northwest Lawmakers, Industry

“It is very important that it does happen — it is a growth market,” Lucas Pipes, vice president and senior equity analyst for Brean, Murray, Carret and Co., said earlier this year.

U.S. exports to China have increased 152 percent since 2011, and worldwide exports have jumped almost 24 percent, the U.S. Energy Information Agency reports. Currently, the industry meets Asian demand by shipping coal out of Canadian or eastern U.S. and gulf ports.

“Asia’s voracious appetite for coal to sustain its growth with affordable power logically benefits the country with the world’s largest coal reserves,” said Hal Quinn, president and CEO of the National Mining Association. “We have the most of what the fast-growing countries want the most of.”

Oregon Democrat Ron Wyden, who is line to become chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee next year if his party retains its majority, is urging the Obama administration to develop a policy to guide export decisions.

Wyden and Rep. Edward J. Markey, D-Mass., ranking member on the Natural Resources Committee, said the president has authority to adopt rules covering exports of coal, oil and gas under the Energy Policy and Conservation Act of 1975.

But McDermott doubts Congress can do much under free-trade agreements about coal exports and proposes approaching the issue another way. He introduced a bill in July to place a $10-per-ton fee on all coal extracted in the United States. Receipts would be distributed to states affected by coal transports, based on population, to mitigate the effect on infrastructure, health care costs and the environment. The legislation also would require coal-carrying freight cars to be covered.

The bill stands no chance of advancing in the waning days of the 112th Congress, but McDermott hopes it will lay the foundation for a broader debate next year.

“I believe in harnessing the power of this country,” he said. “But you have to be honest with what the true costs are.”

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