LETTER: The Coal Export Opportunity for Montana

By Beacon Staff

As the coal debate heats up on the West Coast, our state is left hoping and waiting for the approval of five proposed coal export terminals in the Pacific Northwest. Our state economy is closely connected with the coal industry —keenly feeling the ups and downs of this industry. And, right now, the proposed Pacific Northwest terminals will aid in supplying our state a new export market for sustained, long-term economic growth.

Montana has always had the largest coal reserve in the country with more than 119 billion tons of coal — simply an unfathomable amount of coal that provides our state a built-in economic opportunity. At the moment, coal, directly and indirectly, provides almost 5,000 Montana families jobs with a payroll of over $273 million. Our state has reaped the benefits of coal production; our unemployment rate is decidedly lower than the national average and our state had a budget surplus of $426 million. This financial wellbeing stems, in large part, from our coal industry. And, in order to keep this economic gain, the coal industry must continue to grow.

The five proposed Pacific Northwest terminals will aid our state in exporting coal to meet the growing global demand, which will ensure Montana continues our economic advantage.

The Asian markets are booming and their demand for coal is at an all-time high. Over the last decade, Japan, China, and South Korea have combined to consume over 5.0 billion short tons worth of coal. During that time, Asia’s share of global coal rose from 24 percent to 63 percent. The Asian markets have an overwhelming demand for affordable energy, which we could supply. With uncertain domestic coal markets, the industry will rely on exports for future growth.

Our state has already seen the consequences of smaller industry investment. Although Montana has the highest coal reserves, we rank fifth in coal production. With new investments and the promise of export capabilities, Montana could increase production – leading to greater job creation and even more tax revenue.

Since our economy – and indeed, the economies of our neighbors in the region as well – is so closely connected with the coal industry, a rise in production will indirectly aid other industries, too. For example, our coal companies will send the coal to Oregon and Washington by rail, so the subsequent uptick in rail will not only benefit the rail companies, but the other industries that use the railways and depend on reliable infrastructure. In our state, any gain for the coal industry will be a gain for our total economy.

In light of these tremendous opportunities, both chambers of the Montana Legislature have passed a resolution calling for increased production and export of coal. Recently in show of bipartisanship, the Senate passed the resolution 41-8. With the fate of these proposed export terminals yet to be decided, it’s important for all Montanans to sound the rallying cry in favor of new port construction.

With the most coal reserves, a production rate that could be increased, lawmakers that “get it,” and a growing global demand for our commodity, Montana is at the forefront of a sizable economic boom. The Pacific Northwest terminals will provide the platform to boost our state’s economic development.

Rep. Jonathan McNiven

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