The Army Corps of Engineers will not consider the climate effects of burning U.S. coal in Asia in reviews of proposed export terminals in the Pacific Northwest, an agency official testified Tuesday at a congressional hearing in Washington, D.C.

“We have determined … that the effects of shipping of coal outside U.S. waters and the burning of coal, wherever the ultimate destination may be, is outside our scope of analysis,” said Jennifer Moyer acting chief of regulatory programs for the Army Corps of Engineers, in testimony before a subcommittee of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

The corps’ decision appears to be a setback for Washington Gov. Jay Inslee and Oregon Gov. John Kitz­haber. In a March letter to the Obama administration, the governors sought a federal review of the climate impact from coal exports to Asia before approval of permits for Northwest terminals.

In Washington, terminals are proposed at Longview and Cherry Point, near Bellingham. In Oregon, a terminal at the Port of Morrow would ship coal on barges down the Columbia River.

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Coal combustion is a major source of greenhouse-gas emissions. Terminal opponents often have cited coal’s contribution to climate change as well as the effects of increased freight-train traffic in communities along the rail lines.

In Washington, the state Department of Ecology and the corps are
involved in a joint review of the two terminals. Under state law, Ecology could

examine the contribution

carbon emissions from burning export coal could make to climate change, as well as the projects’ impact

on rail-line communities.

“We still can make our decisions independent of what the corps does,” said Larry Altose, a state Ecology spokesman.

Within several weeks, the department expects to release information about which issues will be covered by the review of the Gateway Terminal project at Cherry Point, Altose said.

Terminal proponents remain wary of what the state might propose.

“Any decision to expand the regulatory review process would set an unintended and dangerous precedent that could damage our state’s competitiveness and economy for decades to come,” said Lauri Hennessey, spokeswoman for the Alliance for Northwest Jobs & Exports, which backs the terminals.

On Tuesday, Moyer made it clear climate effects from overseas use of coal would be off-limits in the federal review. She said the Army Corps of Engineers will limit its study of greenhouse-gas emissions to what the projects might produce in the Northwest.

She said the corps will conduct separate environmental-impact studies of the two Washington terminals, and has not decided whether to do a full review of the smaller Oregon project. There will be no combined review of their cumulative effects, as sought by Kitzhaber and Inslee.

The hearing also included testimony from advocates and opponents of exporting coal to Asia, including Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn.

“Unless we stop these coal terminals from being built, we will be responsible for hastening the advance of climate change both here at home and around the world,” McGinn said.

The hearing was called by the subcommittee’s Republican majority to look at barriers to exporting coal and natural gas.

Some congressional Republicans have been alarmed by the push to examine the greenhouse-gas emissions of exports. They see it as a troubling trend that could also entangle other commodities shipped overseas.

Hal Bernton: 206-464-2581 or hbernton@seattletimes.com