(Adds coal industry comment)
Oct 15 (Reuters) - President Donald Trump’s administration is considering using West Coast military facilities to export coal and natural gas to Asia, according to an Associated Press report on Monday, citing U.S. Department of Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke.
The move would help fossil fuel producers ship their products to Asia and circumvent environmental concerns in Democratic-leaning states like Washington, Oregon and California that have rejected efforts to build new coal ports.
In an interview in Montana, Zinke told AP “it’s in our interest for national security and our allies to make sure that they have access to affordable energy commodities” and proposed using naval facilities or other federal properties for exports.
Zinke, a former Navy SEAL, said the former Naval Air Facility Adak in Alaska’s Aleutian Islands could be used to export natural gas. He did not specify any others.
Asked to confirm the report, Interior Department spokeswoman Faith Vander Voort said: “The President and Secretary are committed to the men and women of coal country, and it should come as no surprise that Secretary Zinke has put a number of options on the table to revitalize these communities and achieve American Energy Dominance.”
The idea drew praise from the U.S. coal industry, which is eager to overcome a dearth of export terminals on the U.S. West Coast. Currently, U.S. coal exported into the Pacific basin must go through Canada’s British Columbia.
“While we haven’t seen any specifics around this proposal, any move to support the export of U.S. coal to our allies would be welcome,” said Ashley Burke, a spokeswoman for the National Mining Association, which represents U.S. coal mining companies.
“The development of an export terminal in the Pacific Northwest of the United States would significantly enhance U.S. allies’ access to secure, high-quality, low-sulfur coal and should be welcomed on both sides of the Pacific,” Rick Curtsinger, a spokesman for Cloud Peak Energy, a Wyoming coal company, said in an emailed statement.
U.S. President Donald Trump has made reviving the coal industry a central tenet of his administration and has rolled back environmental regulations to give the industry a boost.
The coal industry has eyed the West Coast as a gateway to the global market for years, with plans for as many as seven terminals on the books a decade ago. Five of those projects were canceled though amid volatile Asian demand and state opposition. Coal producers are fighting for the remaining two proposed projects in California and Washington.
Jay Inslee, the Democratic governor of Washington state, issued a statement calling the proposal “reckless.”
“This effort is just the latest attempt at an end run around Washington’s authority to safeguard the health and safety of our people,” Inslee said. (Reporting by Nichola Groom in Los Angeles Editing by Matthew Lewis)