By: U.S. Senator John Barrasso
December 20, 2019
Failed Democratic presidential candidate and Washington state Gov. Jay Inslee is abusing the Clean Water Act and taking energy projects hostage. Instead of protecting the environment, he is playing into the hands of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Putin uses energy as an international political weapon. Russia is building two new natural gas pipelines from Siberia. One goes to Europe, the other to China. At the same time, the Russians are increasing their production of coal and oil.
Putin’s goal is to make foreign nations reliant on Russian resources. Now, Russia has an unexpected ally in Inslee for its efforts to expand its energy production and reach.
Inslee has weaponized a small clause of the Clean Water Act, known as Section 401. He is using it to block cleaner, low-sulfur American coal from being shipped out of Washington’s ports. The governor is blocking the permits needed to build a coal export terminal, known as Millennium Bulk. He is sacrificing common sense in the name of alarmist climate change politics.
Congress originally created Section 401 of the Clean Water Act to give states a seat at the table before federal permits are issued for major projects. States deserve that seat and the power to protect the water within their borders. States are best qualified to assess how a project will impact water quality.
In its own assessment, the state of Washington determined that the Millennium Bulk coal terminal project would have no significant environmental impacts on water quality – the reason Section 401 exists in the first place. Additionally, the state’s own consultant concluded the project would lower global greenhouse gas emissions.
Now, Inslee is exploiting Section 401 to fight a war against American energy.
The governor claims the Millennium Bulk Coal Terminal project would be bad for the environment. In fact, the coal terminal would actually reduce pollution. The coal passing through the terminal would come from Western states including Wyoming and Montana. Coal from this region emits fewer air pollutants such as sulfur.
Russian energy production and use, on the other hand, results in significant air pollution. In Siberia, the effects of pollution have gotten so bad that authorities in one town reportedly painted their toxic black snow white.
Millennium Bulk Terminal coal would go directly to Asian markets. Washington can’t prevent Japan and other nations from burning coal. The Japanese recently completed a state-of-the-art coal facility specifically designed for American coal. Japan will continue to use coal and that means it will get its coal from somewhere else.
Russia is more than happy to fill the void left by the United States. Russian coal production has increased more than 30 percent in the last decade. Under Putin, Russia has become the world’s third-largest coal producer. Over the next 15 years, Russian coal output could grow from producing 440 million tons each year, to as much as 670 million tons.
Russia has its eyes set on Asian markets. Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak recently stated, "Our coal companies are now actively conquering the Asia-Pacific region.”
Japan currently imports almost double the amount of coal from Russia than it does from the United States. With American coal blocked in Washington state, more Russian coal will make its way to Japan and other Asian markets.
The bottom line is that Inslee’s abuse of Section 401 is empowering Russia and hurting the environment.
Inslee is not alone. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo used Section 401 to block natural gas pipeline construction across his state. The end result of his obstruction is the same.
Instead of American natural gas heating homes in New England last winter, Russian natural gas was shipped into Boston Harbor. Instead of Americans having the freedom to use cleaner-burning natural gas, more New England families have to rely on fuel oil. A fuel that emits 38 percent more carbon dioxide and costs roughly three times more than natural gas.
These gas pipelines and the Millennium Bulk Terminal would grow America’s economy and help improve our air. Inslee and Cuomo instead decided to help Russia by blocking these projects. It’s time to reform the Clean Water Act to stop these governors from weaponizing the law against America’s people, economy and environment.
John Barrasso, a Republican senator from Wyoming, is chairman of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works and chairman of the Senate Republican Conference.