View Full Version : Coal Exports Emerging as Major Climate Fight in the Pacific Northwest

Keith Millea
12-19-2012, 08:27 PM
The battle goes coast to coast...And it WILL be a battle in the Pacific NW!

Published on Wednesday, December 19, 2012 by Think Progress (http://thinkprogress.org/climate/2012/12/19/1359511/coal-exports-are-emerging-as-a-major-climate-fight-in-the-pacific-northwest/)

Coal Exports Emerging as Major Climate Fight in the Pacific Northwest

by Jules Boykoff (https://deeppoliticsforum.com/jules-boykoff)

In the Pacific Northwest, activists and their allies are ramping up for a full-throttle battle over a proposal to haul coal across the west for export to China. Big Coal’s latest master plan promises to generate a second epicenter of climate-change resistance—our very own Keystone XL pipeline showdown (https://sn2prd0510.outlook.com/owa/redir.aspx?C=S3G_Y8i6pUayM4rUuix_pR8dTaB8sc8IBNIBT MGA84ZR0VJsG80BE0e-70MDvnHAYgX-v4moids.&URL=http%3a%2f%2fthinkprogress.org%2fclimate%2f201 2%2f11%2f19%2f1211981%2fdo-the-math-mr-mckibben-goes-to-washington%2f).

With coal prices plummeting (https://sn2prd0510.outlook.com/owa/redir.aspx?C=S3G_Y8i6pUayM4rUuix_pR8dTaB8sc8IBNIBT MGA84ZR0VJsG80BE0e-70MDvnHAYgX-v4moids.&URL=http%3a%2f%2fdaily.sightline.org%2f2012%2f09%2 f26%2fcoals-unprecedented-collapse%2f%3futm_source%3dBlogRSS%26utm_medium%3d feed%26utm_campaign%3dFeed%3a%2bsightline%2f), thanks in large part to the spike in natural gas use, coal barons are desperate to offload their lucre. Showing ever-greater verve, they’re dumping it in overseas markets, especially China. The US Energy Information Administration projects US coal exports will hit an all-time high in 2012 (https://sn2prd0510.outlook.com/owa/redir.aspx?C=S3G_Y8i6pUayM4rUuix_pR8dTaB8sc8IBNIBT MGA84ZR0VJsG80BE0e-70MDvnHAYgX-v4moids.&URL=http%3a%2f%2fwww.eia.gov%2ftodayinenergy%2fdet ail.cfm%3fid%3d8490)— some 125 to 133 million tons — more than doubling 2009 export levels and surpassing a record set in 1981.

When it comes to climate disruption, these are ghastly numbers. After all, 2012 looks like it’ll be the hottest year on record (https://sn2prd0510.outlook.com/owa/redir.aspx?C=S3G_Y8i6pUayM4rUuix_pR8dTaB8sc8IBNIBT MGA84ZR0VJsG80BE0e-70MDvnHAYgX-v4moids.&URL=http%3a%2f%2fthinkprogress.org%2fclimate%2f201 2%2f12%2f13%2f1333911%2fmother-nature-is-just-getting-warmed-record-smashing-december-2012-hottest-in-us-history%2f) for the contiguous US. The year brought devastating drought and catastrophic storms. While we can’t peg any single weather event to climate change, this is precisely the sort of climate seesaw scientists have predicted. Meanwhile, the Arctic suffered record losses in sea ice (https://sn2prd0510.outlook.com/owa/redir.aspx?C=S3G_Y8i6pUayM4rUuix_pR8dTaB8sc8IBNIBT MGA84ZR0VJsG80BE0e-70MDvnHAYgX-v4moids.&URL=http%3a%2f%2fthinkprogress.org%2fclimate%2f201 2%2f12%2f06%2f1293011%2fnoaa-climate-change-driving-arctic-into-a-new-state-with-rapid-ice-loss-and-record-permafrost-warming%2f) and snow cover. And globally, 2012 is on course to become the ninth hottest year ever (https://sn2prd0510.outlook.com/owa/redir.aspx?C=S3G_Y8i6pUayM4rUuix_pR8dTaB8sc8IBNIBT MGA84ZR0VJsG80BE0e-70MDvnHAYgX-v4moids.&URL=http%3a%2f%2fwww.guardian.co.uk%2fenvironment% 2f2012%2fnov%2f28%2f2012-ninth-warmest-year-record). Revving up coal consumption — the dirtiest of fossil fuels — is not going to help matters, to say the least.

That’s where the Pacific Northwest enters the picture. Last week, the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) staged what may well be the only public meetings on the permitting process (https://sn2prd0510.outlook.com/owa/redir.aspx?C=S3G_Y8i6pUayM4rUuix_pR8dTaB8sc8IBNIBT MGA84ZR0VJsG80BE0e-70MDvnHAYgX-v4moids.&URL=http%3a%2f%2fwww.deq.state.or.us%2fnews%2fpubl icnotices%2fuploaded%2f121128_3345_PNupdateCoalInf oMeet.pdf) for the US coal industry’s hail-Mary moment: to convert the western United States into a railroad and barge pipeline for coal mined in Montana and Wyoming and hauled along the Columbia River to the Pacific Ocean for export to China and elsewhere.

This Morrow-Pacific coal export proposal, which is being pushed by Australia-based Ambre Energy, will annually ship overseas nearly nine million tons of coal. The plan has dredged up blistering opposition. The Sierra Club, buoyed by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s donation (https://sn2prd0510.outlook.com/owa/redir.aspx?C=S3G_Y8i6pUayM4rUuix_pR8dTaB8sc8IBNIBT MGA84ZR0VJsG80BE0e-70MDvnHAYgX-v4moids.&URL=http%3a%2f%2fwww.guardian.co.uk%2fenvironment% 2f2011%2fjul%2f21%2fmichael-bloomberg-sierra-club-coal) of $50 million last year, has made it a centerpiece of its Beyond Coal campaign. Groups like Columbia Riverkeeper (https://sn2prd0510.outlook.com/owa/redir.aspx?C=S3G_Y8i6pUayM4rUuix_pR8dTaB8sc8IBNIBT MGA84ZR0VJsG80BE0e-70MDvnHAYgX-v4moids.&URL=http%3a%2f%2fcolumbiariverkeeper.org%2f) and the Power Past Coal (https://sn2prd0510.outlook.com/owa/redir.aspx?C=S3G_Y8i6pUayM4rUuix_pR8dTaB8sc8IBNIBT MGA84ZR0VJsG80BE0e-70MDvnHAYgX-v4moids.&URL=http%3a%2f%2fwww.powerpastcoal.org%2f) coalition have rallied locals to the cause.

The Yakama Nation, Lummi Nation, and other Native American tribes in the Pacific Northwest have challenged the proposal’s logic and merit (https://sn2prd0510.outlook.com/owa/redir.aspx?C=S3G_Y8i6pUayM4rUuix_pR8dTaB8sc8IBNIBT MGA84ZR0VJsG80BE0e-70MDvnHAYgX-v4moids.&URL=http%3a%2f%2fwww.oregonlive.com%2fenvironment% 2findex.ssf%2f2012%2f11%2fambre_energy_coal_export _proje.html). The Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians demanded (https://sn2prd0510.outlook.com/owa/redir.aspx?C=S3G_Y8i6pUayM4rUuix_pR8dTaB8sc8IBNIBT MGA84ZR0VJsG80BE0e-70MDvnHAYgX-v4moids.&URL=http%3a%2f%2findiancountrytodaymedianetwork.co m%2farticle%2fnorthwest-tribes-step-up-opposition-to-proposed-coal-terminals-140853) a comprehensive environmental impact assessment while the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission questioned (https://sn2prd0510.outlook.com/owa/redir.aspx?C=S3G_Y8i6pUayM4rUuix_pR8dTaB8sc8IBNIBT MGA84ZR0VJsG80BE0e-70MDvnHAYgX-v4moids.&URL=http%3a%2f%2findiancountrytodaymedianetwork.co m%2farticle%2fnorthwest-tribes-fight-for-treaty-rights-in-face-of-coal-transport-plan-129453) the wisdom of hauling coal through at-risk waterways, which could undercut (https://sn2prd0510.outlook.com/owa/redir.aspx?C=S3G_Y8i6pUayM4rUuix_pR8dTaB8sc8IBNIBT MGA84ZR0VJsG80BE0e-70MDvnHAYgX-v4moids.&URL=http%3a%2f%2findiancountrytodaymedianetwork.co m%2farticle%2fnorthwest-tribes-fight-for-treaty-rights-in-face-of-coal-transport-plan-129453) the tribes’ treaty rights.

More than 800 people packed the meeting hall in Portland. Just before the event commenced, Cesia Kearns, a Sierra Club campaign representative, told me, “Coal is the culprit on climate change. If we continue to burn coal at current levels, much less increase them, we’ll have no hope of turning climate change around.”

This sentiment was shared by many people who asked questions or provided public comment.

They interrogated DEQ about air pollution from open-topped trainloads of coal. They quizzed officials on the hazards the project could cause for salmon runs and other wildlife in the region. They asked about the effects additional coal-burning would have on climate change. And they pressed officials about the literal blowback that could emerge: coal burned in China produces mercury that wafts back to the Pacific Northwest.

Although the DEQ web site states (https://sn2prd0510.outlook.com/owa/redir.aspx?C=S3G_Y8i6pUayM4rUuix_pR8dTaB8sc8IBNIBT MGA84ZR0VJsG80BE0e-70MDvnHAYgX-v4moids.&URL=http%3a%2f%2fwww.deq.state.or.us%2faq%2fclimat e%2findex.htm), “The effects of climate change have serious implications for Oregon’s economy and environment,” you wouldn’t know it from the remarks of their representatives on hand. DEQ officials squirmed left and right, claiming only a splinter-sized purview. Those in attendance openly guffawed at their egregious evasions. DEQ project managers repeatedly asserted that an array of topics — from the transport of coal to the proposal’s effects on the climate — was “outside the scope” of their narrow remit. This was met with a sea of Occupy-style frowny fingers and occasional bellows of disapproval. With each outburst, the moderator threatened to shut down the entire meeting.

One couldn’t help but walk away from the meeting with the feeling that the DEQ’s fluffy banter (https://sn2prd0510.outlook.com/owa/redir.aspx?C=S3G_Y8i6pUayM4rUuix_pR8dTaB8sc8IBNIBT MGA84ZR0VJsG80BE0e-70MDvnHAYgX-v4moids.&URL=http%3a%2f%2fwww.deq.state.or.us%2faq%2fclimat e%2findex.htm) about “meeting the challenge of climate change head-on” was a greenwash. The willingness of officials to take the company’s emissions estimates at face value was alarming, their skirting of the issues was appalling. Each stiff-lipped response telegraphed approval for the proposal — you could almost see Ambre Energy’s application slithering through the overlapping patchwork of jurisdiction, which DEQ officials used as an alibi for deflecting their responsibilities.

What also became clear at the public meeting is that activists are embracing the grubby struggle to keep western coal in the ground. If this coal is scraped from the earth and shipped overseas, it’s a climate game-changer. DEQ has until the end of February to make permitting determinations — and they could always be trumped by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which is also weighing permits for the project. But activists are already talking about Plan B.
Campaigners are not going to step aside while fossil-fuel bigwigs transmogrify the Columbia River into a gargantuan coal chute to China. One activist from Occupy Portland told me if the permits are granted and Big Coal’s dream comes true, spikier tactics will emerge to gum up the gears. Climate mavens pay heed—this is shaping up to be the left coast Keystone. The direct-action battle may soon have another front.

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