Mead announced Friday he has written to the White House's Council on Environmental Quality stating it would be inappropriate to analyze under the National Environmental Policy Act the effects of burning U.S. coal overseas.
The NEPA law requires detailed analysis of the environmental effects of federal agency actions. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is reviewing three proposed port projects that would accommodate coal exports, one in Oregon and two in Washington.
Wyoming is the nation's leading coal-producing state, and state officials are concerned about falling domestic demand for coal as a result of global warming concerns. State officials are pushing to secure ports in the Northwest to allow coal exports to Asia.
Many in the Northwest have expressed concern about the prospect of heavy train traffic and attendant coal dust, noise and other disturbances, as well as the ultimate emissions from burning the coal, if exports are allowed. Proponents, however, have said the exports will create jobs and generate millions in tax revenues.
"Coal will provide electricity across the globe in the coming years, and I believe these export facilities will power economic growth here in America," Mead stated.
"I support a thorough, site-specific environmental and economic analysis of these projects," Mead said. "I support addressing all of the concerns and questions raised by the citizens of Oregon and Washington. However, I do not support the novel use of NEPA as a political opinion piece on global climate change."
In a joint letter last month, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee and Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber asked White House to require a full examination of the effect on global air quality of shipping up to 140 million tons of coal a year from the Powder River Basin in Wyoming and Montana overseas.
Noting the coal exports could result in 240 million tons per year of carbon dioxide emissions, the Democratic governors wrote it is "hard to conceive that the federal government would ignore the inevitable consequences of coal leasing and coal export."
"We believe the decisions to continue and expand coal leasing from federal lands and authorize the export of that coal are likely to lead to long-term investments in coal generation in Asia, with air quality and climate impacts in the United States that dwarf almost any other action the federal government could take in the foreseeable future," they wrote.
Mead stated in his letter that Inslee and Kitzhaber didn't propose NEPA analysis of the environmental effect of exporting products produced in the Northwest, such as timber.
"Rather, their letter targets one commodity coal and the producers, transporters and workers who deal with it," Mead wrote. "This undermines the fundamental fairness of the process and potentially sets U.S. regions, states and resources at odds with each other."