Politics Fueling Washington State Coal Export Embargo

Real Clear Energy | Demetrios Karoutsos | July 27, 2018

In his first press conference as Washington governor, Jay Inslee tipped his hand about his negative views on coal. Thus, it probably did not take many by surprise when his administration blocked a project to export coal mined in Montana and Wyoming from a Washington port to booming markets in Asia. The subsequent federal lawsuit challenging the state’s ruling and amicus briefs filed by allies of the plaintiffs make it clear that this case goes far beyond coal, having major ramifications for interstate and foreign commerce.

The overarching question is whether one state can hold other states hostage and override the Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution, which grants the federal government the right to regulate interstate and foreign trade. Governor Inslee and allies argue that because the coal from Montana and Wyoming will eventually be burned to generate energy, Washington is well within its rights to deny exports due to the environmental impact that it would have on those Asian markets thousands of miles away. Yet, the only way this logic works is via a willful suspension of reality, ignoring certain obvious facts.

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