LONGVIEW, Wash. -- When Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer arrived in Longview, he was met by a group hoping to derail his plan for shipping coal through Washington state.
Local residents, health and environmental groups gathered at the Cowlitz County Commissioners' Office to let Schweitzer know his state's wheat is welcome, but the coal is not.
Schweitzer is on board a plan to ship coal mined in Montana and Wyoming down rails through Washington state to a private dock at the Port of Longview. Groups are challenging the commissioners' approval of the plan to refurbish the dock and use it to send the coal to China.
Schweitzer pointed out the states have a long trade relationship and that Montana has been mining and burning coal to make power for Washington state for three decades. He and other supporters also boast the plan will bring badly needed jobs to the depressed Southern Washington economy.
"Well, who's really getting the jobs?" asks coal critic K.C. Golden of the group Climate Solutions. "If China does the manufacturing, the innovating and investing while we shovel their coal, this is a terrible job strategy."
Opponents claim the only thing Washington residents will get out of the deal is a setback to the state's shining climate protection record and the unhealthy coal dust left by trains and the loading facility. They are counting on Governor Chris Gregoire to put the brakes on the deal. Gov. Gregoire sat down for a meeting with Schweitzer Wednesday and told him she would not oppose the project just because it involves coal.
"I'm here to make sure the process works," said Gregoire, "That all the regulations are followed, but I have no personal objection whatsoever to us having coal come through our ports and exported somewhere around the world."
Some of her strongest environmental supporters are disappointed to hear that.
"The Governor has shown real leadership on clean energy in the past," said Kevin Wilhelm, CEO of Sustainable Business Consulting. "We hope she is not going backwards toward the coal policies of the past."