Coal Trains: What Jay Inslee Said During Campaign

Communities are split on the what more coal exports through Washington State mean for jobs and the environment.

Supporters of Washington Governor-elect Jay Inslee are pressuring him to announce his position on proposals to build coal export terminals. We’ve combed through our campaign coverage and reprint below what Inslee said as a candidate.

But first, Grist’s Lisa Haymes describes the current pressure:

“He hasn’t even gotten his foot in the door of the mansion yet and already Jay Inslee is being touted as the nation’s greenest governor — and being pushed to live up to that reputation.

Inslee, a Democrat, won election in Washington state earlier this month after getting unprecedented support from state and national environmental groups. They’re counting on him to keep up the advocacy for climate action and clean energy that he demonstrated during more than 15 years in Congress.” (Will Jay Inslee, Washington’s next governor, fight coal trains? ).

And a reporter for a Seattle alternative paper notes she’s contacted Inslee staff “at least three times in the past two weeks looking to get Inslee’s position” on this issue. Staff have not responded so far.

Here’s what Inslee said in debates and interviews during the campaign. If you know of other statements, leave a comment and we’ll add it to the story.

September debate in Vancouver, WA:

“Moderator Brian Wood: To the point question from Barry Lieberman, who posted this on our KATU Facebook page, “Will you allow coal to be shipped through the state and to China and why?”

Inslee: I look at this principally through the jobs lens. And I think we need to fully and fairly evaluate this from the plus and minuses jobs perspective. And there are pluses and minuses. There are obviously some pluses in the construction of these potential ports and there are some pluses in the operations of the ports. But there are also some very potential negative economic consequences for jobs because of very very long, very very frequent trains bisecting and cutting our small communities in two.” (Transcript from the Vancouver Debate, Transportation for Washington, September 3, 2012)

June interview with Seattle Times Editorial Board:

“[Lance] Dickie asks what’s your position on coal trains moving through the state and coal ports being built in the Northwest?

Inslee says he looks at through a jobs lens. They do have some positive job potential but negative potential through transportation. He said need to evaluate cumulative impacts and look at each town that will be affected and how to mitigate….

Inslee says we need to look at cumulative impact of coal trains. “I have a concern if we elect governor who does not have a vision for job creation that includes clean tech,” he said.” (Live blog: Endorsement meeting with candidates for Washington governor Rob McKenna, Jay Inslee; The Seattle Times, June 26, 2012)

June interview on KUOW

“My view is we need to evaluate all of the jobs prospects, both plus or minus, before we make a decision, said Inslee, a member of Congress. “But let me suggest that this is a moment of truth for the state of Washington and it is a question of whether or not we will embrace a future that can embrace the new systems of energy.” (Wash. Gubernatorial Hopefuls Weigh In On Coal, KUOW, June 12, 2012)

October 2011 interview with Grist

“Inslee refused to take an official position — “I’m still listening to a lot of people” — but in discussing the issue, he offered a few interesting lines of thought on the larger employment and environmental implications of the decisions. He emphasized that as governor his first priority would be boosting economic development and job opportunities in the state. Clearly the port projects would create “some short-term jobs in construction and long-term jobs in operation,” he said.

But, he added, not all the economic ramifications of a development like a coal port are obvious. “What is the impact on local economies of [coal] trains going through every hour and a half?” he asked. Bellingham, for instance, is planning major redevelopment on its waterfront. How would a massive port, with dozens of trains arriving every day, belching noise and coal dust, affect that development, those jobs? “It’s worthy of thinking about,” he said.

Also worthy of consideration, he added, are the effects on manufacturing competitiveness. If the U.S. exports coal to China, he said, “they’ll use it to produce airplanes that compete with Boeing. I’ve got 80,000 people making airplanes here competing with 80,000 Chinese. Shipping them cheap, dirty electricity to subsidize their cheap airplanes may not be the best manufacturing strategy for the United States.”

By the time he’d gotten wound up, he sounded a bit less equivocal about the whole thing:

When we reduce the price of dirty electricity in China, we do two things: We subsidize their exports to us, making unless competitive, and we make it less likely that they’ll develop cleaner sources of energy. They get cheap electricity, we get pollution.” (Jay Inslee, candidate for WA governor, chats with Grist about clean energy and coal ports, Grist,  October 26, 2011)

Learn more from a pro-coal exports group, and/or from an anti-coal exports group, PowerPastCoal.