Coal export plans a dirty business for the PNW
Hey kids! Here’s an idea: Let’s inundate the global market with our cheap dirty coal! We won’t be burning and polluting the atmosphere here in the U.S., merely transporting the coal on 1.5-mile long trains through densely populated areas of the Pacific Northwest, where it will be exported to foreign markets. We’ll boost our exports, help our balance of trade and create jobs!
That’s the gist of the coal industry’s argument for proposals to export tens of millions of tons of coal through the Pacific Northwest to China and other Asian nations.
“Coal exports are a dirty business,” says Robin Everett, an associate regional representative for the Sierra Club and its Beyond Coal campaign.
Everett and a panel of speakers recently made the case against the coal export proposals during the “Coal Hard Truth Forum” at the University of Washington. They said King Coal’s PNW export machinations are bad business all around – bad for the environment both in the PNW and wherever the coal is exported, not mention the significant health risks that trail coal wherever it goes. In addition, it’s bad for business in the PNW and attacks the clean, green PNW brand as well.
The groundwork is set for an epic battle pitting the huge resources of the coal and marine terminal industries against the well-funded and highly successful anti-coal movement led by the Sierra Club.
There are six proposed coal export terminal locations in the Northwest ranging from Coos Bay, OR to Bellingham, WA.
At the moment major efforts to scrap the export plans are coalescing around two locations, Cherry Point, which is north of Bellingham, and the Port of Longview, WA.
At Cherry Point, Peabody Energy, the largest private-sector coal company in the world, has hooked up with SSA Marine, which operates more cargo terminals than any other company in the world. Their joint agreement is backed by Goldman Sachs. Under their proposal they would export nearly 50 million tons of coal a year, which translates into 18 coal trains up to two miles long from Wyoming and Montana moving through Washington’s Whatcom County each day.
The Longview proposal, about 100 miles south of Seattle on the Columbia River would involve exports of up to 60 million tons a year.
Chris Bast of Climate Solutions made the business and economic case against the exports. “Our mission is to engage businesses on the clean energy economy,” and not encourage the use of coal and the construction of new coal-fired plants in China that will “pollute the air for the next 30 to 50 years,” he said.
Aside from that basic global view, the export proposal is bad from a local perspective. He made these points:
- Coal dust from coal cars and at marine terminals threatens health, air and water.
- The trains will vastly increase congestion at railroad crossings, with delays averaging five to eight minutes at each crossing, causing serious backlogs and gridlock, while impeding emergency services.
- It will require increases in public spending to maintain and upgrade track, rail crossings and rail beds. “Public investment should be for clean energy and not for the dirty fuels of the past,” says Bast.
He adds, “The planet can’t handle this. The decision to export will lock-in an emissions trajectory that will last for decades.”
The Sierra Club’s Everett said, “We need to stop flooding the market with our cheap coal. We have got to make sure these projects are not built and keep the coal in the ground.”
The Pacific Northwest prides itself on its greenness, environmental sophistication and commitment to clean energy. That’s its brand, so to speak. It will close its two remaining coal-fired plants over the next 14 years, making it the first coal-free region in the U.S.
Coal export terminals in the PNW and all that train traffic would tarnish that accomplishment; exporting pollution sends a hypocritical and feckless message to the rest of the world.