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From Kitimat, B.C., some 250 giant tankers a year would carry up to 2 million barrels of dilute bitumen to foreign refineries, probably in China. Potentially, some could go to California or just about anywhere else. If a tanker were bound for Asia, it would negotiate Dixon Entrance, between British Columbia and southeast Alaska. If it were instead bound for California and its refinery capacity, it might head south, reaching the open ocean through the Strait of Juan de Fuca. Up to 60 vessels a year would be Very Large Crude Carriers of 320,000 deadweight tons. The project is controversial in British Columbia — thousands of people gathered recently at the B.C. legislature in Victoria to protest the plan — but the companies and the Canadian government have huge financial incentives to push ahead.
And then there's coal. If all the plans to export Powder River Basin coal through ports in Washington and Oregon actually bear fruit, up to 150 million tons will flow through the region en route to the furnaces of east Asia every year. The first scoping meeting for the proposed Pacific Gateway coal terminal at Cherry Point was held at Bellingham's Squalicum High School on Oct. 27. Hundreds of people lined up in the rain, waiting to get in. Pacific Gateway still has a long way to go.
The Cherry Point plan is only the tip of a very large iceberg. No one knows whether or not government agencies will even consider the potential combined impact of all the proposed coal ports or the climate impacts of burning all that coal in China. When the Port of Morrow, on the Oregon side of the Columbia, applied for permits that would allow it to build facilities for unloading coal, storing it, and loading it onto barges that would carry it downstream to St. Helens, where it would be loaded onto ocean-going ships, both the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and citizens groups who oppose the construction of coal terminals argued that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers should do a "cumulative-impacts analysis." For the time being, the Corps will merely do an environmental assessment. The Corps left the door open to reconsider the issue. Earthjustice attorney Kristen Boyles says that the Corps won't discuss a cumulative impacts analysis right now, and neither will anyone else; Boyles says she can't even get a meeting with agency officials and doesn't expect to until after the election.
Most, if not all, of those fossil fuel exports would — or will — presumably be burned in the cars and furnaces of east Asia. Without enlisting the large and growing economies of China and India, Latin says, any effort to control climate change will fall flat. And neither of those countries will agree to anything that limits its development or slows its population's rise from poverty. Therefore, the world won't move closer to a solution until technologies that give them the same opportunities to keep developing are widely available and competitively priced. (In fact, if not rhetorically, it's the same for the U.S. and the rest of the developed world; virtually no one will screw today's voters for the sake of future generations, will sacrifice the short term for the sake of the long.) "Until we have technologies that can increase development and reduce poverty," he says, "we're never going to get those countries to support us. And without their support, there's no hope."
Latin doesn't think there's any less hope because Congress hasn't passed cap and trade or a carbon tax that would have simply funneled money into the Treasury or back to the people. He argues in his book that most of the emission reductions already being made or contemplated — under the Kytoto Protocol or in Europe — couldn't possibly avert disaster. It's an imperfect analogy, but Latin basically views human-caused climate change as a freight train barreling down the track. We want to stop that train. Whether we open the throttle wide or open it less doesn't really matter. Either way, that train isn't going to stop.
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