Private West Coast investment blocked, Trump eyes military bases for coal, gas exports

With private export terminal projects blocked from Washington to California, President Trump is turning his attention to U.S. military bases as a means to export energy resources abroad.

This week, the Associated Press reported that the Trump administration is considering using West Coast military bases or other federal properties to ship U.S. coal and natural gas to Asia as a way of circumventing environmental opposition to fossil fuel exports. In Washington state, the regulatory-turned-legal battle involving Millennium Bulk Terminals has been ongoing for the past six years. Private investors like Millennium and its parent company, Lighthouse Resources, have been working for years to create facilities to meet this growing foreign demand for reliable sources of clean-burning coal.

As the AP notes, the West Coast offers the most economical route for shipments to Asia because of its relative proximity to the largest coal-producing region in the U.S.: the Powder River Basin, which straddles the Montana-Wyoming border. Environmental protests and the resulting regulatory foot-dragging and uncertainty have all but shutout fossil fuel exporters looking to take advantage of that route.

Unfortunately for Millennium – and the thousands of exporters in the Pacific Northwest — the project continues to languish due to an inconsistent regulatory culture driven largely by politics. The proposed terminal located about two hours south of Seattle in Longview would generate $37.2 million in tax revenues and 300 full-time, family wage jobs to the community, to say nothing of the added capacity the facility would offer the state’s farmers and growers for exporting everything from Washington’s world-famous apples to wheat and cherries.

This past January, Lighthouse sued Gov. Jay Inslee and his administration, alleging violations of the U.S. Commerce Clause. The National Association of Manufacturers, along with the attorneys general of six landlocked states (Montana, Wyoming, South Dakota, Kansas, Utah and Nebraska) have since joined in, filing an amicus brief, arguing their economies are adversely impacted by Washington state’s actions, effectively cutting them off from key export routes, discriminating based on the commodity – coal.

Private investments are critical to the state if it intends on maintaining its global trade status. Unfortunately, the uncertain regulatory climate in Washington state seems antithetical to boosting the confidence of potential investors.