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PNW coal export scoping to include GHG impacts in Asia

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Photo by Paul K. AndersonThe coal industry’s plan to move millions of tons of coal through Pacific Northwest terminals to China and other Asian markets took a serious hit when Washington regulators said environmental impact reviews must consider the worldwide impact of burning the export coal in China.

A major battle surrounding the various export terminal proposals has centered on the “scope” of the environmental review process, such as whether the impact review would be limited to local port and terminal areas in the PNW region. Read the rest of this entry »

Written by William DiBenedetto

September 3, 2013 at 5:00 am

Does China really need—or want—US coal?

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coal train_mckennaThe short answer is: probably not. There are many reasons to question the wisdom of exporting U.S. coal to Asia through five planned terminals in the Pacific Northwest, including huge health, safety and environmental risks.

But what if the entire underlying economic rationale for this whole exercise—China’s supposed insatiable and never-ending demand for U.S. coal exports—is non-existent? What if that perceived and anticipated market, even if it once existed, is disappearing?

That’s the conclusion of a recent Greenpeace report, “The Myth of China’s Endless Coal Demand: A missing market for US Exports.”

“The US coal industry – reeling from sagging domestic demand, plummeting profits, and tanking stock prices – is desperate for a new market for its wares, and it thinks it has found one in China,” Greenpeace says. “But in reality, the Chinese market for US coal exports may dry up before major new US coal shipments ever reach its ports.” Read the rest of this entry »

Written by William DiBenedetto

March 12, 2013 at 3:00 am

Three weasels sell out for coal exports

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coal_fallsroadI practically spewed coffee and other detritus all over the front page of Tuesday’s Seattle Times when I saw this headline:
‘Green’ strategists now back coal trains

WTF? The Times subsequently backtracked on that egregiously misleading headline on its website:  ‘Green’ strategists hired by coal companies to push train proposals.

However it’s titled, the story has engendered a firestorm of controversy and push-back on the astounding sell-out of the three “green strategists” so politely quoted by the newspaper. Maybe in a different life they were green, but now they – Bruce Gryniewski, Lauri Hennessey and Roger Nyhus — are simply a clueless and pathetic group of feckless mercenary weasels sucking at coal’s black tit. Read the rest of this entry »

Written by William DiBenedetto

February 28, 2013 at 12:19 pm

Coal’s downward spiral in 2012

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It was a big year for Big Coal — in the sense of big losses and setbacks for the coal industry’s agenda, which made it a very good year indeed.

When thousands of people show up at the Seattle Convention Center for a technical “scoping” hearing to comment on and protest plans to export coal through Pacific Northwest terminals to Asian markets – Big Coal’s master export plan is in doubt. One coal plant each week was retired during 2012, which perhaps helps to explain why there is such zest on the part of the industry to ship the stuff overseas.

The Sierra Club‘s nationwide campaign—Beyond Coal—to phase out coal burning in the United States won victories from coast to coast, including the coal plant retirements and record investments in wind and solar. The coal industry experienced numerous setbacks in 2012 as its market share fell and stock prices tanked.

“With an overarching goal to move America off coal and slash carbon pollution, an unprecedented coalition including Sierra Club and more than a hundred local, regional and national organizations has helped to secure the largest drop in U.S. coal burning ever,” the club said in its year-ean review.

The campaign, which received major backing with a four-year $50 million commitment from Bloomberg Philanthropies in 2011, now includes legal and grassroots fights that target every stage of the coal lifecycle in more than 40 states. It has grown to become one of the largest and broadest grassroots environmental campaigns in the nation’s history, according to the club.

The following Sierra Club info-graphic tells the campaign tale of the tape:

Many investors lost big on coal, with numerous bankruptcies of coal mining companies and coal-burning utilities including Midwest Generation in Illinois, Patriot in West Virginia, and Dynegy in Texas. After declaring bankruptcy, Patriot – Appalachia’s third largest coal company – reached an agreement with the Sierra Club and its allies to end the practice of mountaintop removal coal mining and retire much of its large scale surface mining equipment. Coal’s poor economics were underscored news that the Great River Energy Spiritwood coal plant in North Dakota has sat idle since it was completed at a cost of $440 million earlier this year.

NRG Texas Energy announced this month that it will not proceed with plans to build the Limestone 3 coal unit in Jewett, Texas, 120 miles south of Dallas. NRG filed the initial applications to build the plant in 2006, when a handful of other Texas utilities were filing similar proposals to build more than a dozen new coal boilers in Texas. As of December 2012, the majority of these proposals have been cancelled, due to the changing economics of coal plants, the growth of wind energy in the state, and because of legal challenges and grassroots opposition.

Coal is on the run and battling on many fronts – 2012 may turn out to be a watershed year in its downward spiral, especially if 2013 sees the fall of Big Coal’s PNW export plans. That will be a great new year indeed.

Written by William DiBenedetto

December 28, 2012 at 2:07 am

Thousands set to say no! on coal export proposal

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Today’s final public hearing on the proposed coal export terminal in Bellingham, WA promises to be a major happening, with thousands of red-shirted opponents primed to speak out against it.

Here’s the skinny from the Waterkeepers Alliance:

A growing coalition of Northwest residents are traveling hundreds of miles to make sure agencies understand their strong opposition to dangerous coal transport through their communities. The outcry from citizen groups across the Northwest is in response to a proposed expansion of exported coal from Powder River Wyoming to industries in China, India and the Far East. As part of its plan, the coal industry threatens to send 60 new mile-long coal trains through many rail communities in Montana, Idaho, Oregon and Washington to five proposed export terminals, where the dirty carbon-based fuel will be loaded onto ships destined for Asia.

On Thursday, December 13th, in Seattle, thousands are anticipated to attend the final public hearing to weigh in on a plan to build the largest of five proposed Northwest coal terminals near Bellingham, Washington.  The proposed Gateway Pacific Terminal, would be constructed in a wetland area adjacent to a critically important aquatic reserve, and would receive and export 48-54 million tons of coal per year.

Waterkeepers from around the Northwest are opposing the transport of coal and the construction of the terminals. In Seattle, Waterkeeper Alliance National Director Pete Nichols will join local Waterkeeper programs to attend the hearing and to represent the dozens of other Waterkeepers across the U.S. and Asia that oppose coal exports.

WHAT’S AT STAKE: Whether or not the Environmental Impact Statement produced for approval of the terminal reflects the true impact of coal mining, transportation and burning, and whether or not global climate change is considered for the most dramatic proposed expansion in fossil fuel exports in years.

WHO: Chris Wilke, Puget Soundkeeper; Matt Krogh, North Sound Baykeeper; Bart
Mihailovich, Spokane Riverkeeper and Pete Nichols, National Director with the Waterkeeper Alliance will join thousands at the Seattle hearing and hundreds at the pre-hearing rally.

WHAT: A rally and press conference followed by a public “scoping” hearing for the Federal Environmental Impact Statement.

WHEN: Thursday, December 13th
2pm – Rally and Press Conference (Freeway Park)

4pm – Public Hearing (Washington Convention Center)

WHERE: The hearing is at Washington Convention Center, Downtown Seattle, 800 Convention Place, Ballroom 6F. The rally and press conference will be at Freeway Park, which is adjacent to the Convention Center.

At the final hearing, attendees will renew calls on the Army Corps of Engineers to conduct an area-wide assessment of the proposed projects and to include a thorough evaluation of the dangers of snarled traffic, emergency response delays, threats to health and safety from toxic diesel and dangerous coal dust emissions, the risks of coal train derailments and marine spills, mercury emissions deposited in the Western U.S. from increased coal burning in Asia, climate impacts of additional coal development and costs to local businesses surrounding the rail line, and those reliant upon it to maintain a thriving business.

FOR MORE INFORMATION:

http://ecowatch.org/2012/waterkeepers-stand-strong-coal-trafficking/

http://www.powerpastcoal.org/
www.coaltrainfacts.org

Written by William DiBenedetto

December 13, 2012 at 9:49 am

Coal export alliance plays jobs card for PNW

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Say you’re watching Ed or Rachel for your daily dose of progressive news on MSNBC; they go to a commercial break and this 30-second ad pops up:

Just in time for the regulatory review and so-called scoping coal export proposal season here in the Northwest! It prompted me to take a look at the website that flashes briefly during the ad – the Alliance for Northwest Jobs & Exports.

One minor detail that gets brushed aside is that this is about selling cheap and dirty coal to international – mostly Asian – markets and hauling tens of millions of tons of it through heavily populated regions in the Pacific Northwest to new and/or upgraded export shipping terminals. Even the alliance’s name shuns the four-letter word. Jobs! Exports! Who can oppose that? Read the rest of this entry »

Written by William DiBenedetto

December 3, 2012 at 2:00 am

Getting the Coal Train Blues

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“People get ready there’s a train a’coming…” Sixteen mile-and-a-half long coal trains a day through West Seattle, my town, to be exact. Or how about 62 coal trains rolling through Spokane every day?

That’s nothing to sing about, unless it’s one of those “low-down dirty blues” songs. A small gathering met at Fauntleroy Church’s Fellowship Hall on Wednesday (Sept. 26) to hear about Big Coal’s noxious plans to ship coal from the Powder River Basin to the Pacific Northwest for export to markets in Asia. On hand were representatives from the Sierra Club, Climate Solutions and Earth Ministry to get out the word about those plans and to talk about the activities to derail the export schemes.

“Coal exports are a dirty business,” said Robin Everett, an associate regional representative for the Sierra Club and its Beyond Coal campaign. “It’s dirty every step of the way.”

I’ve written about these plans before on this and other sites, but now it’s getting personal, and it’s that way for anyone who happens to live in the vicinity of BN Railway’s tracks in the PNW. By the way, that’s millions of people who will be exposed to the harmful impacts of moving coal through the region in terms of health, safety, economic disruption, gridlock traffic congestion at rail crossings and infrastructure pressures. Read the rest of this entry »

Written by William DiBenedetto

September 27, 2012 at 9:14 am

Seattle City Council: Thumbs down on PNW coal-export terminals

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Seattle’s City Council unanimously passed a resolution opposing the development of coal-export terminals in Washington State, but what does it really mean? Actually not much – it’s a victory, sort of, for environmental activists that are fighting proposals to transport coal on 1.5 mile-long trains through the region for eventual export to China.

But the city council has no real say on what happens with this issue; it was an easy vote for the council members. But it is a clear message from a city and port that prides itself on its greenness. (Regarding the Port of Seattle: the port’s opposition to a new sports arena in the SoDo district for NBA-starved fans because of “traffic” is both heartless, tone deaf, short-sighted and incredibly lame – but I digress.) Read the rest of this entry »

Written by William DiBenedetto

June 20, 2012 at 2:32 am

RFK Jr. calls out the corrupting power of coal

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“Coal is a crime.” Succinctly put by the environmental lawyer and anti-coal advocate John F. Kennedy Jr. this week in Portland where hundreds rallied against proposals to bring mile-long coal trains from the Midwest to Pacific Northwest ports for export to Asia, mainly China.

Kennedy, president of the Waterkeeper Alliance and senior attorney for the National Resources Defense Council, said that the half-dozen or so pending proposals in the PNW will lead to political corruption and environmental damage, while the actual number of jobs created will be minimal. In addition King Coal’s influence would “seep” into the Oregon and Washington state legislatures, buying legislators who would otherwise vote against the proposal with campaign money and the promise of jobs.

“It’s going to end up leaving Portland with a legacy of pollution, poison and corruption,” Kennedy said.

Environmentalists say that the dust emitted from trains hauling tens of millions of tons of coal would pollute the proposed routes while opening the door to further environmental damage from its use in Asia.

Kennedy said the U.S. believes it can export the environmental problems from coal, but it will find that mercury from its use in Asia washes up on the Pacific shore while acidifying the ocean.

“Anybody who touches coal gets poisoned by it,” said Kennedy,”You don’t just get sick. It poisons democracy, it poisons communities, it poisons values.”

And that’s why coal is a crime that should not be exported overseas or allowed to pass through this region’s communities for the sake of a few jobs. “We’ve got lots of better sources for jobs,” Kennedy said. “If you were really interested in jobs, let’s build wind farms, let’s build solar plants. Let’s use the marketplace to incentivize good behavior.”

Thank you Robert Jr. – somewhere a proud father is smiling. The father who said: “There are those who look at things the way they are, and ask why… I dream of things that never were, and ask why not?”

[Image: coal trains in Kansas by colin_n via Flickr]

Written by William DiBenedetto

May 9, 2012 at 12:09 pm

EPA mercury regs end 2011 on a high note

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It took a while—20 years!—but the EPA’s historic decision to regulate mercury emissions are cause for a major celebration and at least a dollop of optimism that the U.S. is on the right environmental path heading into the new year. That is if the Republicans don’t mess it all up by winning the White House in November. (Writing that just sent a major chill up my spine.)

Not long ago I wrote about how a few miniscule drops of mercury can contaminate a 20-acre lake and the fish that happen to reside there, thanks to coal-fired plant emissions. That’s a major reason why the EPA’s decision to regulate the emissions of mercury, lead and other toxic pollutants from coal- and oil-fired plants is a major victory for the health and environmental welfare of the nation. And for jobs.

Please ignore the scare tactics from Big Coal and right-wing wackos about blackouts, job losses and energy security risks as a result of the rules. That’s their big lie and they are sticking to it no matter what.

“Congress ordered the EPA to regulate toxic air pollution more than 20 years ago when it passed the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990,” said Rachel Cleetus, senior climate economist at the Union of Concerned Scientists. “The EPA has been regulating most industries up until now, except for the biggest polluters—coal and oil-fired power plants. The public health benefits far outweigh the costs. And contrary to the doomsday predictions of industry and their allies in Congress, the lights will stay on.” Read the rest of this entry »

Written by William DiBenedetto

December 29, 2011 at 2:02 am

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