green and sustainable business

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?

The basic point this alliance is making sets up a specious ‘choice:’ “Support new shipping terminals and thousands of new family-wage jobs in the Northwest… or watch them go elsewhere.”

That’s like saying if you don’t rob somebody, someone else might, or if you don’t use performance enhancing drugs, someone else will, or … you get the idea. Basically it’s a ridiculous and intellectually dishonest justification around “fixing the economy.” But there’s another more pertinent question that’s ignored by this Alliance, and also involves the economy: If you support the coal-export idea, how will that improve the health, quality of life and the environment – both in the Northwest and the regions where the coal is eventually burned?

But wait, there’s more. Thousands of jobs? I tried to find solid evidence or studies showing some real numbers that the five export coal proposals on the table would create “thousands” of permanent “family-wage” (whatever that is) jobs here in the PNW. Apparently that’s all anybody can mindlessly repeat – thousands of jobs. How is that possible? Yes, there will be plenty of temporary work during terminal construction or modification of existing terminals, and related road and rail crossing infrastructure improvements, but that must assume that all five terminal proposals actually are approved. Once construction is finished, however, those particular jobs go away.

Again, if all five terminals somehow are up and running in some dark coal-dust infused PNW future how much new longshore work will they generate? Thousands of new, permanent jobs on that score are extremely unlikely – at most maybe 100-200 jobs. New railroad-related jobs? Please – probably not even 50. The repeated claim that “thousands” of new permanent jobs will flood into the Northwest from the coal-export scheme doesn’t add up. It’s wrong and cynically shameful for the Alliance to trumpet this vague and undocumented assertion.

And what is the Alliance? It has 44 members (check the list here) featuring the usual coal, labor, rail, trade and building trades interests. One major terminal operator, SSA Marine, is on the list — that’s no surprise given its involvement with the export plan — but no ports.

The Washington Public Ports Association, with about 70 members, issued a position paper on the coal export issue that’s curiously vague (or vaguely curious). It kinda-sorta endorses the coal export idea, but mostly it’s just mealy-mouthed BS. To wit:

– “The movement of goods, no matter the commodity being moved, creates the economic basis that stimulates investments in roads, rail, and other basic infrastructure. An overly burdensome environmental analysis creates inefficiencies that jeopardize these investments.”

– “Analysis of potential cumulative impacts is a component of the SEPA and NEPA review of all freight infrastructure projects. However, this has never been interpreted to require an analysis that stretches to include the production of the product; it’s transportation to markets, and its ultimate use. Requiring such an analysis, as part of either a programmatic or project-specific EIS, would be unprecedented and highly detrimental to the development of freight infrastructure and to Washington’s trade-based economy. WPPA supports limiting analyses to the potential impacts of the project itself, not the broad overall movement of cargo across a region.”

– “WPPA agrees that rail infrastructure should be improved, where needed, to keep cargo moving efficiently. WPPA supports continued investment by ports, railroads, and agencies such as the Freight Mobility Strategic Investment Board and WSDOT in grade crossing and rail system improvements.”

– “WPPA believes that, where feasible and appropriate, railroads should make operational changes and improvements to overpasses and reduce at-grade crossings in order to avoid disruptions in local communities.”

– “Concerns about issues such as coal dust should be studied by environmental regulators. Should impacts be found, they should be addressed and mitigated by the coal shippers and railroads.”

Congratulations to WPPA for winning the 2012 namby-pamby pretzel logic award. Way to take a firm stand there, guys.

Is this the best the proponents of coal exports through the PNW can do? With all their money and clout? The scary thing is that it just might be enough.

King Coal has ruled for a long time and is not going down easy, as this song by John Prine (shared with me by a friend) amply demonstrates:

Shame on you, MSNBC!


Written by William DiBenedetto

3 December, 2012 at 2:00 am

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