Politics Blog

What did Gov. Inslee and Wyoming’s governor talk about when they talked about coal?

Two governors sat down for an odd-couple meeting on Monday, May 18. One, Gov. Jay Inslee, D-Wash., is outspoken about the need for his state to be a leader in combating climate change. The other, Gov. Matt Mead, R-Wyo., has been on a mission to get one of his state’s biggest commodities, coal, to whatever market will buy it.

Coal companies have had to push their product to overseas markets, as coal has fallen out of favor as a domestic power source under the Obama administration and its new Environmental Protection Agency guidelines. The new EPA rules are expected this summer.

Signs that the once booming coal export market is going soft, too, surfaced by 2013. Even so, officials such as Gov. Mead want to see two proposed coal terminals in Washington state built, including Gateway Pacific Terminal at Cherry Point.

It’s easy to imagine what Mead might have said to Inslee on Monday and less apparent what Inslee had to gain from the meeting, besides being a gracious host to a fellow state leader.

Oh, to be a fly on the wall of that Olympia office. Or better, a reporter with a notebook.

Inslee shed some light on the meeting the next day, when a reporter at a press briefing asked Inslee to talk a little about the encounter with Mead.

Here’s the governor’s one-minute answer, in full, transcribed from an archive of the briefing (which had mostly to do with how little the Legislature had accomplished more than halfway through its special session):

“I won’t go into every single thing we talked about, but we had a good talk. He’s obviously interested in coal. He spent considerable time telling me about some of the efforts he has to develop cleaner coal technologies. He has an interest in developing technologies that would allow carbon dioxide to be separated from the flume of pollution coming off coal plants and try to make it into a commercial product. So he told me about a Wyoming project that their Legislature has embraced to try to develop that type of technology. And so we spent some time talking about that.

I shared some of the information I had about coal sequestration technology, and we touched a little bit about the coal port issue that he is interested in, and I told him that we were in the middle of that permitting process. I gave him some prospective timelines when that would be done. I told him that we were going to follow the law and had not made decisions about these permits. And we had a nice talk.”

I’ve asked Gov. Inslee’s office to elaborate on the information he has about coal (or carbon) sequestration technology. While staffers are tracking down an answer, Jaime Smith in the governor’s communications office offered this statement:

“The governor’s focus has been squarely at weaning our state — and country — off coal and carbon-based fuels and transitioning to clean, renewable energy sources.”

UPDATE: Late this afternoon, Gov. Inslee’s office elaborated some more on what he and Gov. Mead discussed regarding carbon capture technology. From Inslee’s Communications Office:

“The governors discussed carbon capture technology as a means to reduce emissions in the power sector, in the U.S. and globally. They discussed developments in carbon capture technology development. Gov. Mead told Gov. Inslee about the Carbon Capture research project competition that he has put together, with the support of the WY state legislature and in collaboration with X-Prize. (AP: Wanted: Carbon Capture Research Area At Wyoming Plant).

“Gov. Inslee talked about his experience visiting the Schwarze Pumpe in Spremberg, Germany, years ago, and he mentioned some interesting innovators working on the technology whom he has met over the years.”

The Wyoming governor’s office did not respond to a phone call and an email requesting comment on Monday’s meeting with Inslee.

The Associated Press did a story about Mead’s next stop — a meeting on Tuesday with Oregon’s governor.

In a phone interview with AP, Mead said he opposed Washington’s decision under Gov. Inslee to evaluate the global impacts of Gateway Pacific Terminal and another terminal in Longview, including the greenhouse gases emitted by burning the coal overseas.

From the AP story:

State officials in Oregon and Washington have said any analysis of exports needs to look at the prospect of ultimately burning coal in Asia and the effect on global climate change.

Mead, however, said he believes Wyoming has a right under interstate commerce to export coal. And he said exporting low-sulfur coal from Wyoming could ultimately reduce emissions in Asia because it would supplant dirtier coal that otherwise would be burned.

Mead said he told (Oregon Gov. Kate) Brown that Wyoming believes that proposed export facilities need to be considered through the normal environmental impact statement process.

“But when you start getting into this global impact, then that causes us some heartburn because I think it’s difficult to measure,” he said.