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Coal ports are bad idea for both Washington and China

Guest Opinion: The proposed coal terminals across the Northwest are a bad idea for communities on both sides of the Pacific Ocean.
A BNSF freight passes alongside Bellingham's popular Taylor Dock walkway.

A BNSF freight passes alongside Bellingham's popular Taylor Dock walkway. Floyd McKay

Editor's Note: On Wednesday, Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn announced that the city will commission a study of the economic impacts of adding 18 coal trains to the daily load of train traffic that passes through Seattle. This afternoon, at 4 p.m, there will be a public hearing on the coal trains issue at the Washington State Convention Center. Crosscut also welcomes other perspectives on this issue.

As leaders of locally-based water quality organizations in both Washington state and China, we fight every day to protect the health of our respective watersheds. We are linked by our affiliation through the Waterkeeper Alliance and now by a common threat: a massive planned expansion of dirty coal, mined from Montana and Wyoming and shipped to Asia through five proposed Northwest ports. To safeguard our communities, the current scoping process must reflect the true environmental and human health costs of extracting, transporting and burning the dirty fuel.

Coal is the most destructive and dirtiest of all carbon-based fuels. Its extraction, burning and even its transport come at a terrible cost in toxic pollution, human health and climate change. This cost is borne out by increases in cancer, asthma, lung disease and neurological disorders in the affected communities. 

Coal is also the dirtiest of fossil fuels when it comes to climate change and its evil twin, ocean acidification, which threatens Washington’s shellfish industry and the entire ocean food web. There is simply no path to controlling carbon that involves continuing to burn coal at current levels. It is mathematically impossible, which is why expanding coal burning and exports is pure insanity.

Washington and Oregon recently became the first states in the U.S. to begin phasing out the burning of coal energy for electricity, a move that has been widely celebrated as a big win for clean air and healthy communities, and which will curtail the worsening effects of climate change.

Although China is rapidly industrializing, it is a world leader in the development and production of clean energy technology. Many of the wind turbines used to produce clean energy in the Northwest are produced there.

Despite mutual reputations for clean energy, the two regions have been thrust into the brewing battle around increasing the use of coal. Washington state is now poised to become the largest exporter of coal with the proposed construction of the Gateway Pacific Terminal in Bellingham, WA (one of five terminals planned for Washington and Oregon which would export 48 million tons of dirty coal annually).

China could fall victim to the cheap and subsidized energy source and end up as the recipient of the dirty fuel, with all the trappings of the localized and global pollution. 

In addition to the Waterkeeper programs in Puget Sound and China, the proposed coal route would affect watersheds as far away as Montana and including those in Idaho; Spokane, Wash; the Columbia River Basin and the Portland area. Waterkeeper Alliance has eight licensed Waterkeeper programs along the proposed route in the Pacific Northwest, another six in China and others in Bangladesh and India which could also end up as recipients of the coal. All are united in their opposition to the coal export terminals in order to protect water quality and the health of their communities.

If approved, the final insult to the Northwest would arrive in mercury pollution from new coal power plants in China and the Far East.  This would accelerate the current trends that have led health agencies to issue consumption warnings for many of the freshwater fish populations in the northwest due to mercury contamination.

The real losers would be anyone who cares about climate change, sea level rise, health in their communities and local jobs like those created by fishing, tourism and shellfish aquaculture.

Of course the powers that be are not asking the citizens of Washington or China for an up or down vote. Today, our challenge is to ensure that the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) contains a sufficient scope to accurately reflect the true cost of coal and all of the impacts that the export of coal would create.


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Comments:

Posted Thu, Dec 13, 1:16 p.m. Inappropriate

Its a shame that the eco community has fallen so far from ethical, neutral, science based, debate and public "education". So many of these coal stories and comments look like they are written for dim witted closet trolls.
Powder River Coasl is not considered "dirty coal". Your readers can look up the info for themselves and recognize your insulting use of language to manipulate opinion. Again, it is sad that you are unable to be factual and precise in your arguments.
Omission is also a form of untruth. Clean coal from the U.S. mined with U.S. regulation and industry standards is safer, produces less mining damage, and provides income and taxes to fund (among other things) environmental benefits to our nation and communities. Coal mined in China produces none of the benefits to anyone, and produces an enormous amount of energy waste, air quality, and water contamination, from the NW of China to the Pacific coast. Supplanting Chinese coal (much of it is mined illegally without any oversight whatsoever) with Powder Basin coal would actually decrease the amount of mercury and other pollutants entering the atmosphere from China. Also, the cost of transporting "our" coal to the Chinese Pacific Coast is more energy efficient than the transport overland across China.
Too bad the eco community has become so insular and inbred. I morn the loss of the invigorating clash of ideas and thinking of the "olden days". Basically, you are an extension of the politicians and bureaucrats ..... in effect, "we don't need no stinkin' environmental ethics" !
Later
James
Jamesmi@frontier.com

Jamesa

Posted Fri, Dec 14, 12:34 p.m. Inappropriate

Actually James it is you that is being far from factual, full of hyperbole and it is you that is trying to manipulate opinion. I am not sure who you are working for or what your agenda is, but your avoidance of the facts is obvious.

There is simply no such thing as "Clean Coal". While some varieties might be higher in sulfur or mercury than others, all coal is dirty. It is in fact the dirtiest of all of our carbon based fuels. All coal emits mercury, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons and other toxic compounds into the air that poison fish, impact neurological development, and cause cancer, asthma, emphysema and reproductive problems. There are 100's of doctors on record opposing these terminals for these reasons.

Coal's contribution to global climate change, ocean acidification and sea level rise is massive. We simply can not avoid the worst effects of climate change while burning coal at anywhere near current levels, much less expand coal use.

I stand by all my statements here, you many need some time to do more research however. Here would be a good place to start:

http://www.coaltrainfacts.org/key-facts

Posted Thu, Dec 13, 4:02 p.m. Inappropriate

Please save us from hystrionics and hysteria. Give us facts.

EXAMPLE - quoting you as written
There is simply no path to controlling carbon that involves continuing to burn coal at current levels. It is mathematically impossible, which is why expanding coal burning and exports is pure insanity.
QUESTION uh which "carbon" are you referring to? Do you mean carbon dioxide by any chance? If so please say so.

While you are at it some more facts
How much carbon dioxide is emitted by humans and how much is the worldwide total?
How much carbon dioxide is emitted by other warm blooded animals
How much carbon dioxide is emitted by home heating applicances - please include diesel, gas, wood etc.
How much carbon dioxide is emitted by Natural gas fired electric power plants?
How much carbon dioxide is emitted by the automobile?

Yes I know they have been monitoring carbon dioxide concentration in Hawaii and have for 50 years or so. From your article I can conclude I have forgotton more about that than you know.

Please list the weight per weight of mercury in coal. When you are done with that then list how much is emitted from coal fired power plant stacks without and with modern up to date controls.

Please list the average airborne concentration of mercury at the stack top and at 10 25 and 50 mile ranges.

As far as good scientific reporting and stating your case you get a double F -.

Hystrionics ahd hysteria A triple plus.

Worthwile reading and information - not even worth my time to grade.

CROSSCUT I am sorely disappointed in you for allowing this drivel.

leitmotif

Posted Fri, Dec 14, 4:21 p.m. Inappropriate

Of course human caused climate change is a hoax. Why would changing the level of a gas in the atmosphere that plays a key role in regulating the transformation of solar radiation into heat have an effect? After all, since the start of the industrial revolution human inputs from burning fossil fuels have only increased the level of this gas by over 40%. And we're on track to double the CO2 in the atmosphere from that baseline in about another 30 years. And triple it by the end of the century. I mean, we don't see any effect when we double or triple other things. For example, if I double or triple the amount of food I eat, I won't gain any weight.

Steve E.

Posted Thu, Dec 13, 9:43 p.m. Inappropriate

At the Convention Center rally this afternoon I estimate there were 5 times more red than green shirts. Two ballrooms on the 6th floor were full. Continuous speakers 4-6 pm. Both sides of this issue are screaming because both sides are scared -- the pro-coal people because they see damage to or blockage of economic growth and jobs. The anti-coal people because they see a long list of environmental and social impacts from both the coal and the trains, with no way to recover once this damage would be done. Let's stop screaming and look at science+engineering-guided cost/benefit analysis that the environmental impact statement, to be drafted in January, must produce.

Charlton2

Posted Fri, Dec 14, 10:17 a.m. Inappropriate

I see from this opinion piece that we're doomed. The world will end because of coal. Dang. I just hope the end comes quick. I don't think I could suffer another season of the Mariners.

Djinn

Posted Fri, Dec 14, 12:32 p.m. Inappropriate

Actually James it is you that is being far from factual, full of hyperbole and it is you that is trying to manipulate opinion. I am not sure who you are working for or what your agenda is, but your avoidance of the facts is obvious.

There is simply no such thing as "Clean Coal". While some varieties might be higher in sulfur or mercury than others, all coal is dirty. It is in fact the dirtiest of all of our carbon based fuels. All coal emits mercury, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons and other toxic compounds into the air that poison fish, impact neurological development, and cause cancer, asthma, emphysema and reproductive problems. There are 100's of doctors on record opposing these terminals for these reasons.

Coal's contribution to global climate change, ocean acidification and sea level rise is massive. We simply can not avoid the worst effects of climate change while burning coal at anywhere near current levels, much less expand coal use.

I stand by all my statements here, you many need some time to do more research however. Here would be a good place to start:

http://www.coaltrainfacts.org/key-facts

Posted Fri, Dec 14, 2:22 p.m. Inappropriate

Get over yourself. The facts are that coal will continue to be used because there isn't a viable replacement. You know it and so do the Chinese. Ask your Chinese co-author what the predominate fuel is for cooking and heating in China and he'll tell you it's coal. Second place is biomass and in 2004 it was the fuel of choice by around 480 million. Which should tell you just how much coal the rest of the Chinese need to survive.

Now if you offered something more than just the usual sky is falling crap but you didn't nor did you even have the good grace to do a decent job of outlining the real issues that face the Chinese population and their energy needs. If you don't want to export coal to China offer a viable solution not the tired and worn out sky is falling crap. The Chinese will get their coal, maybe not from us but they'll get it. Then what will you do?

Djinn

Posted Fri, Dec 14, 4 p.m. Inappropriate

Sorry Djinn the comment above was intended in reply to the other commenter. I have reposted it there.

Posted Sun, Dec 16, 4:31 a.m. Inappropriate

I don't give a crap about the energy needs of China. Why should I? Why should any United States citizen? I do care about Washington State, China doesn't care about Washington State. Screw China.

They have enough coal of their own. I find the sudden concern for the well-being of China weird. China is a dictatorship that treats its' citizens like crap. China has coal, and should use its' own, or not. Either way, Washington State does not need China Coal Ports, or the huge infrastructure costs to the taxpayer that the China Coal Ports would engender.

I really don't get it. China engages in any behavior possible to gain economic advantage in trade, does not trade in good faith with the United States; and we get people coming out of the woodwork with this great concern for China. This really is weird. Why the sudden great concern for the welfare of China? Man, what crap of a United States citizen cares more about China, than their own Nation, and their own State? Pathetic.

jhande

Posted Sat, Dec 15, 8:48 p.m. Inappropriate

Be careful of tossing around accusations of hyperbole.

I agree that burning coal, or any other fossil fuel is dirty. (That includes gasoline). We waste most of its energy up/out the smokestack/tailpipe.

That would be the primary focus of any environmental battle that would bear fruit. Push hard on the carbon emmisions at its dirtiest points.
The mines, and the power plants. True, we can't control what China does, but, we could add a 'carbon tax' as a nation, that furthers the process of developing alternate energy sources that pollute less.

However, there are a few things on the coaltrainfacts website that aren't accurate, or are worded vaguely.

2 points are evident:

1)The times that road crossings are blocked don't stand up to scrutiny, and in a wry sense, it's a 'pot calling the kettle black' accusation.
"I can't drive my (pollution emitting) car anywhere and any time I want, unfettered by any delay, so your coal hauling trains are bad, bad, bad"
The times are at least double what is observationally evident, plus the math in the calculations doesn't back up the conclusion.

and

2)the website needs to back up the enroute losses due to coal dust with hard data. Exactly how much is deposited any time a train passes by.

Those issues don't add to the environmental discussion, but come across as classic NIMBYism, and given that most properties on Puget Sound are high value shorefront properties, this isn't doing much to engender support from the landlubber side.

You can't stop the railroads from shipping product, and if they have the proof that coal dust emissions are negligible, the Constitution protects them, via the Interstate Commerce Clause.

JimCusick

Posted Fri, Dec 14, 4:11 p.m. Inappropriate

"one of five terminals planned for Washington and Oregon which would export 48 million tons of dirty coal annually)."

Incorrect. All of the terminals that are currently proposed will export about 150 million tons.

Steve E.

Posted Fri, Dec 14, 4:19 p.m. Inappropriate

Coal exported from the PNW will be used only if it is the cheapest. If the full costs are included in its price instead of being externalized in public health and environmental degradation, then it will be more expensive. Basic economics tells us that if the cost of something rises, less is consumed. Similarly, if it is not allowed to be exported at all, a more expensive alternative will be used. That may include conservation, efficiency, or other (cleaner) forms of energy. In all of these scenarios, consumption and resulting pollution is reduced.

The Climate Ostriches pushing coal are unbelievable ignorant if they don't understand this. Or maybe they think we are.Or maybe they're just dishonest.

Steve E.

Posted Fri, Dec 14, 4:26 p.m. Inappropriate

If coal was clean Santa wouldn't put it in the stockings of bad polluting corporations.

Steve E.

Posted Sat, Dec 15, 4:27 p.m. Inappropriate

I think I have read that over 40% of the electricity used in this coutry for industry, cars, residential, etc. comes from coal fired generators. At this time that percentage is dropping not because of any limitations on coal or the expense of installing any federally required pollution devices but simply because the price of natural gas has dropped about 65% in the past few years. I don't think there are any federal laws that prohibit people from using coal in the United States...correct me if I am wrong about that. The descriptions above that attribute fiendishly destructive characteristics to coal (not only burning it, but just transporting it) have not been accepted where it counts... in the formulation of law. We use coal so why shouldn't the Chinese, Koreans and Japanese use coal? these energetic protests are like temperance advocates coming from a house well stocked with beer. Shouldn't we be outlawing the burning of coal if it is so bad? if the answer is that there is not the political or economic will to do so then procedural harassment of the coal transport seems unserious.

kieth

Posted Sun, Dec 16, 6:18 p.m. Inappropriate

"Shouldn't we be outlawing the burning of coal if it is so bad?"

Yes, or at least a heavy tax on carbon to push us toward other energy sources and less consumption.

"if the answer is that there is not the political or economic will to do so then procedural harassment of the coal transport seems unserious."

Huh? We shouldn't bother trying to stop stupid decisions/actions because it's politically difficult or unpopular? Stopping continued/increased GHG emissions is very serious and important unless we really look forward to TEOTWAWKI.

louploup

Posted Sun, Dec 16, 4:48 a.m. Inappropriate

Washington State would be harmed by the China Coal Ports. The infrastructure costs associated with the China Coal Ports would dwarf the small economic benefit the China Coal Ports are estimated to bring our State. We would pay huge amounts of money to build overpasses,and other infrastructure; while, Goldman-Sachs gets profit, China gets coal to enable more outsourcing from the United States, and the railroad gets profit. We get left with huge costs, disruption in our transportation system, and negative environmental effects from the coal. Washington State would just be used by corporations (most foreign owned, or multi-national) and China, for the profit of the corporations and China, leaving the costs of the needed mitigation to Washington State. We would be fools to accept this. We would be fools to allow the abuse of our State to benefit Goldman-Sachs, and China.

I am wondering when Goldman-Sachs will file for Foreign Trade Zone Status for the China Coal Ports. The individuals involved in promoting the China Coal Ports are amongst the worst individuals on the face of the Earth. These are the scum greedy bastards that cause most of the problems on Earth, including wars. All so that these greedy creatures can buy bigger gold bathroom fixtures. To hell with these hateful, greedy, thieves and murderers, and to hell with their China Coal Ports.

jhande

Posted Mon, Dec 17, 8:49 a.m. Inappropriate

It's a free country, louploup, if one wants to protest a legal enterprise (an abortion clinic, for example, operating with the full endorsement of law) there are plenty of ways to do it. But the rules have been debated and settled. We, as a nation, burn lots of coal, we subsidize electric cars that are (roughly) 40% coal powered. Out here we build fossil fuel powered airplanes you've noticed that. We drive automobiles approximately as much as the rest of the country. So when a noisy minority decide that coal is so bad that it should not even be transported across our fair land I smell hypocrisy and maybe a willful obliviousness. I suspect that if the coal were mined in the state of Washington there would not be any debate about the legitimacy of trains carrying coal.

kieth

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