COOS BAY -- In what could be a blow to environmentalists, U.S. Rep. Peter DeFazio says he has few qualms with a proposal to build a coal export terminal in Coos Bay.
In a town hall meeting on Wednesday attended by 130 people, Oregon's 4th District Democrat waded into a debate that has divided the Port of Coos Bay from the Eugene City Council.
In July, the council raised concerns that coal trains en route from Wyoming to Coos Bay would spread dust that would harm Eugene residents and food production.
The council added that exporting coal fanned the flames of global warming.
But DeFazio said protests against the plan ignore reality.
In regard to coal emissions, he said it implausible to assume that South Korea, the presumptive coal importer, will not buy coal from a different country if it can't get it from the United States.
'You're not going to facilitate closing down coal plants by prohibiting the sale of U.S. coal," he told The World in interviews.
Secondly, due to certain free trade agreements, DeFazio says it is illegal for the U.S. to stop the export of coal to Korea.
DeFazio separates that argument from concerns about coal dust. He says using enclosed coal cars on the rail route could guarantee that no dust escapes.
However, enclosed cars come at a steeper price, and there are legal problems with charging an importer for those extra expenses. DeFazio says he is discussing ways that problem could be solved.
DeFazio's stance is rare ground for agreement between himself and his Republican opponent in November's election.
While Art Robinson says he has not been following the coal-export proposal closely, he has not heard any convincing argument for it to be prohibited.