Coal in the West: Where Economics and Ideology Clash

Though Washington and Oregon are dominated by the Democrat Party, by taking an anti-coal stance, they hinder the creation of mainly union jobs. Railroaders, longshoreman, miners, construction workers, who are all unionized, suffer from lack of work as the Democrats cater to the environmentalist wing of the party.


By Taylor Rose l July 28, 2015

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“There are two Americas – separate, unequal, and no longer even acknowledging each other except on the barest cultural terms,” said author and journalist David Simon. Nothing could be a better description of the growing sectarian nature of American society than over energy development in the West.

Historically, most regions in the United States have found themselves united by common culture and regional interests, whether it was the Antebellum South opposed to tariffs or New England striving for the abolition of slavery. Now, the American West, usually united in its “libertarianesque” defense of individualism, finds itself deeply divided between the  largely conservative interior states wanting to develop their natural resources  and the green costal states of Oregon and Washington seeking to hinder coal and petroleum exports in favor of radical environmentalist policies.

When President Obama came to power in January 2009, he vowed to end the American coal industry and his blue state legionaries are working to forcefully phase out red state production.

Despite the increasing global demand and finding new methods of becoming energy independent, the Washington state senate passed SB 5874, which calls for a cost-benefit analysis of closing the four-unit coal fired power plant in Colstrip, Montana. The bill is now pending in the Washington state house. If the legislation passes, “SB 5874 would enable Puget Sound Energy to buy out other owners of the Colstrip plan with the promise it would close the plant.”

If the state legislature in Olympia is successful in shutting down the Colstrip power plants, it could result in thousands of lost jobs, economically harming counties in Eastern Montana with higher energy costs, not just in Montana, but also in Washington and the Midwest.

In response to Olympia’s attempt to kill Montana’s coal energy exports, state Senator Duane Ankney (R-Colstrip) carried HB 244 though the Montana Senate, which provides $1 million to the Montana Department of Justice in the event Montana sues the state of Washington.

Rep. Jeff Morris (D-Mount Vernon) calls this a “discussion about how to divest” coal from Montana’s energy supply, while Senator Ankney calls it “a shot across the bow” aimed at Montana coal production.

However, Montana has a good example to follow in order to get around anti-coal legislatures and lawsuits. Wyoming has approved legislation, which will, according to the Missoulian, “allow a state agency to issue up to $1 billion in bonds to finance construction of coal ports in the Northwest.” This would ease tensions inside more liberal dominated states such as Oregon and Washington, since Wyoming would be paying for port construction.

At present, both Wyoming and Montana are appealing a decision by the Oregon Department of State Lands that halted the construction of a coal terminal at the Port of Morrow, on the Columbia River.

Bud Clinch of the Montana Coal Council, who spoke with SFPPR News & Analysis, says “there are three port projects” under consideration, Port of Morrow on the Oregon side of the Columbia River, the Millennium Balk Terminal in Longview, Washington and the Gateway Pacific Terminal at Cherry Point, north of Seattle. “All three of them are at one stage or another of permitting” with Millennium Balk and Cherry Point still in the permitting process. Yet, both ports are facing uphill battles thanks to the opposition from the Washington Department of Environmental Quality and the state’s governor, who is opposed to exporting “coal of any kind.”

Though Washington and Oregon are dominated by the Democrat Party, by taking an anti-coal stance, they hinder the creation of mainly union jobs. Railroaders, longshoreman, miners, construction workers, who are all unionized, suffer from lack of work as the Democrats cater to the environmentalist wing of the party.

In a very similar fashion to the Keystone pipeline debate, the Democrat Party in the West is also divided on this issue. Montana’s Democrat Governor Steve Bullock says “he understands climate change is serious but has grave concerns about Olympia taking actions that have significant potential economic consequences for Montana “on a matter that will require action on a much larger scale to be successful.”

Former Montana Democrat Governor Brian Schweitzer, who Clinch says “was the biggest cheerleader for coal we have ever seen,” once took a jab at Washington Democrat Governor Chris Gregoire’s anti-coal stance saying, “I’m going to be calling Chris Gregoire, and I might suggest to her that she remind her constituents that they’ve kept their lights on for 30 years with our coal.”


Taylor Rose is a graduate of Liberty University with a B.A. in International Relations from the Helms School of Government. Fluent in English and German he has worked and studied throughout Europe specializing in American and European politics.  He is a prolific writer and author of the book Return of the Right an analysis on the revival of Conservatism in the United States and Europe. He is also a contributor to SFPPR News & Analysis.