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When big carbon comes to town, the resulting swath of destruction is economic as well as environmental.  This should not be too much of a surprise for anybody who has been paying attention.

Here in Whatcom County, WA, we've been getting glossy brochures in the mail and paid doorbellers coming by to tell us all about the wonderful new jobs that will be provided by the proposed Gateway Pacific coal export terminal at Cherry Point, WA.  They even hired a consultant to make a shiny report with all kinds of job numbers, complete with a massage parlor multiplier that inflates the direct jobs into a much larger alleged number.

The "report" conveniently neglected to even mention the direct economic costs of the scheme.  

On Tuesday, a report by Public Financial Management, Inc., commissioned by CommunityWise Bellingham, shined a light on many of the real and tangible costs, and provided guidelines to help us to collect more information and better understand these costs.  The full report (One MB) is here

A key finding: The net job creation associated with the project might be negative.

The monetary and job costs cited in the report are only the start.  More costs will follow.  For instance, the extensive work done by Whatcom Docs describes the serious health risks that the project will bring.

It's difficult to write about the coal scheme only in terms of a profit and loss statement.  
How do we put a price on saving the places that we revere, or on the health of a child?

But, it's important, because we need to put the kibosh on the jobs vs environment narrative that the coal mongers have tried so hard to establish.  The balance sheet is simply their profits measured against everything we hold dear.

Right from the executive summary of the report:

... it is possible that even if all of the projected employment benefits of GPT were achieved it could still have a net negative employment impact on Whatcom County’s economy.
A big reason for this is that we have so many great things going on here.  People love to visit and see our incredible scenery.  People move here, just for the privilege of retiring in this community, or raising their children in positive and suportive school system (yes, they still exist, and we've got one!). These people pay taxes and create new jobs.

Lost jobs overwhelm a short term benefit
I know this is true because I am one of those people.  We chose to move here, from a choice which was pretty much anywhere in USA.  I moved my job, my wife started a health clinic, now she employs someone part time.  So that's 2.5 jobs brought here just in one tiny anecdote.  

All of that will be put at risk by a change to becoming, in some measure, a coal town.

I know what you're thinking.  Pay a consultant, they'll say anything.  It's just battling consultants.

We can cut through that false equivalency on two levels.

First is about the approach of the report.  This is serious analysis.  The fact that it doesn't provide sweeping conclusions is to its credit.  The report identifies potential risks, provides supporting information and suggests some methods to further assess the economic risks.

The initial presentation of the findings was provided by a principal consultant for PFM.  It was immediately evident from the report, the presentation, and the Q&A that this is a guy who loves the analysis, loves doing the numbers, and loves getting it right.  He'll never give you a prediction without also telling you the error bars.

Can you spot the train?
Despite the many recent pressures that have been driving them from their accustomed habitats, we had a sighting of a true scientist in the wild.

It's very much to the credit of CommunityWise, not only that they went to the considerable expense and effort to commission this report, but they found true professionals to accomplish it.

The Q&A featured thoughtful questions from people who had taken time out of the heart of their work day to get this info first hand.  My admiration just continues to grow for the people who live in our new home town.  The presenter answered each one equally thoughtfully and very objectively.  This is someone who loves getting it just as right as is humanly possible.

Second, the supporting information about economic costs and risks is unmistakeable.

It's not just the extensive footnotes in the report itself.  Information about the costs of big carbon is arriving from literally everywhere.

The report cites several other risks that are clearly understood by people who live here, because these are core facts that we live with every day:

- Tourism brings in $480 million a year.  Some of that could be lost if people don't want to go to a coal town on their vacation.  

I bet you know where the train is now!  Ready for a relaxing night?
.
- The former Georgia Pacific site along the water front already has $40 million in development commitments, and is projected to accomodate a billion dollars in redevelopment and 5,000 or more jobs.  This could be harmed by increased rail traffic cutting the waterfront off from the rest of town.

- Large infrastructure changes that we would have to pay for in order to mitigate the effects of the project.  Somehow, the coal people don't have to pay for many of the problems they cause.

If only a fraction of these potential costs are incurred, that will wipe away any economic benefit of the proposed terminal.

On purpose, the study doesn't consider negative impacts beyond Whatcom County, impacts on the many towns along the rail corridors that will experience only problems and no benefit at all.

And of course, there's the excursions.  An excursion is something that wasn't supposed to happen.  When a coal ship runs aground in the narrow rocky waters of the sound, and the the oil pours out, we'll hear about how nobody could possibly have foreseen the tragic event.

At the end of it all, there's the abandoned facility.  Some time in the future, when the terminal is out of use or reduced to three lonely guys in the control room, we'll be left to clean up the pollution.  It's not a coincidence that the proposed terminal operator is a subsidiary of a subsidiary.  The profits will go out to the parent companies and their billionaire owners, but when it's time to pay for the cleanup, the money will be gone and the front company will be conveniently bankrupt.

On the day when all that remains is pollution, it won't look like such a smart decision to let them come here.

Fortunately, we can do something about it.

The Hamsters That Roared
Press coverage of the report:

Bellingham Herald
Cascadia Weekly
Crosscut

Any time you think that you don't have a choice, you actually do.  

Any time you think you have to do something that's wrong, you don't.

Our future - worth saving

Not Here.  
Not in Our community.  
Not in any other place.

Not Today.  
Not Tomorrow.
Not Any More.

We shall not participate in our own Destruction.

.
Photos by permission from Paul Anderson.

More information:

- Doctors warn about the health effects.  
- Plans are underway to pass an ordinance banning the coal trains from Bellingham
- Local organization Re Sources has organized important information about the project.
- Re Sources has also sued SSA Marine based on Clean Water Act violations
- CommunityWise Bellingham has gathered info about the project and the many issues
- WhatcomWatch has provided regular updates and opinion
- Sierra Club has a lot to say about it
- Sightline.org has had very good coverage of the issue
- It's a natural for ClimateSolutions.org
- GetWhatcomPlanning has excellent insights on the ongoing permitting saga
- Protectwhatcom has even more info
- Safeguard the South Fork alerts us to the risk of an eastern route for the coal trains

Facebook Groups include:

350 Bellingham
Coal Free Bellingham
Coal Free Washington
Friends Against Coal Terminals
Power Past Coal
Protect Whatcom
Re Sources
Western Action Coalition

Originally posted to James Wells on Wed Mar 07, 2012 at 08:21 PM PST.

Also republished by Climate Hawks.

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Comment Preferences

  •  You are affecting the economics of coal in China (4+ / 0-)

    Make no mistake about it, the inability of the coal and rail companies to obtain access to  large-scale shipping of coal from  Northwest ports is making a difference on coal investment decisions all over the globe.

     Keep up the good work - only the fate of the planet's habitability  for your children and grandchildren is at stake.

    "Anyone who believes exponential growth can go on forever in a finite world is either a madman or an economist."

    by oregonj on Wed Mar 07, 2012 at 08:35:38 PM PST

  •  What came first? (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    oregonj

    Was the railroad there before or after that hotel (or home) was built? Complaining about trains when a building is built right next to the tracks seems a bit disingenuous to me. If the hotel (or home) was there first, then I think they have a legitimate complaint.

    Other than that, I think shipping coal to China and other countries from the West Coast is one of stupidest energy policy we have in North America only losing out to extracting oil from tar sands and polluting our aquifers with natural gas fracking.

  •  I fear that no matter what (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    marina

    the coal is going to be shipped to China , one or more coal ports are going to be on the west coast . It royally sucks but China will have its coal . So the question is , what part of the west coast are we willing to screw over ?
    And that's not even to mention the places where the coal is going to be dug up from .

    I would like to say we could get China to change course and not burn so very freaking much coal , but I don't think China is going to do an about face .

    "Drop the name-calling." Meteor Blades 2/4/11

    by indycam on Wed Mar 07, 2012 at 08:46:00 PM PST

    •  Communities up and down the NW Pacific coast (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      marina, Lefty Coaster

      are being wooed to be the next big coal port on the West coast with the promise is of jobs. Earlier this year, St. Helens, Oregon signed up.

      Oregonian: Port of St. Helens approves coal export agreements with two companies

      Port of St. Helens commissioners have approved agreements with two companies that want to export coal, adding to the scramble to ship coal to Asia through Northwest ports.

      The commissioners voted in favor of coal export -- potentially up to 38 million tons a year -- Wednesday night after testimony from supporters touting the job potential and from opponents with concerns about environmental impacts and increased train and barge traffic.

      The coal is going to come from Montana, and Democratic Governor Brian Schweitzer is leading the push to get these coal ports built. For example:

      Billings Gazette: Schweitzer in Washington to discuss coal port

      Gov. Brian Schweitzer will meet with Cowlitz County commissioners at 10 a.m. Wednesday in Kelso, Wash., and later with Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire in Seattle to discuss a controversial proposal to build a major new coal export terminal just west of Longview, Wash.

      Schweitzer has emerged as a strong proponent of Millennium Bulk Logistics' proposal to build a coal export facility at the former Reynolds aluminum site on the Columbia River. His office said he plans to tour the site Wednesday morning with Joe Cannon, Millennium's chief executive officer.

    •  No coal for you! (0+ / 0-)

      That defeatism is exactly what the coal cabal wants.  It's also wrong.

      Communities all along the coast are making committments to help each other.  It can be defeated everywhere, because the impacts can be demonstrated to be unacceptable at each location.

      •  "defeatism" ? (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        James Wells, Roadbed Guy

        Its not .

        It can be defeated everywhere, because the impacts can be demonstrated to be unacceptable at each location.
        Can be vs will be ?
        Its already being shipped . Coal is being loaded on ships and sent to China . Its not a question of being defeated everywhere . If that was the question , then its already been answered .

        "Drop the name-calling." Meteor Blades 2/4/11

        by indycam on Wed Mar 07, 2012 at 09:20:11 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  Point taken - coal is being shipped out (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Calamity Jean

          from Canada.

          It's accurate that the issue is preventing the expansion of coal exports.  That's a big issue, because the combined capacity of the Canadian ports is about 30 million tons a year, while the various proposed US projects would add up to 100 million tons or more per year.

          Info from Sightline

          Not increasing the amount of exports is a worthy and achievable goal.

          •  Punta Colonet ? (3+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            James Wells, marina, Roadbed Guy

            http://en.wikipedia.org/...

            There is a proposal to turn the bay (Bahía Colonet) near Punta Colonet, a desolate and sparsely inhabited inlet, into a multi-billion dollar deep water mega-container port able to handle next-generation vessels.[1][2] The mega-port will cover 30 km² which more than 70 km², making it as large as the U.S. ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach combined. The projected multimodal maritime center would make Punta Colonet the largest port in Mexico and the third-largest in the world, after Singapore and Hong Kong.[3] Port operations will require a city of up to 200,000 people.[4] The project will require a new power plant and a desalination plant. The port will also require a 300 km plus (200 miles) rail line from the Port to reach the United States border and an intermodal facility.
            On December 14, 2009, after two years of work and expenditure of $1 million, the Mexican government issued urban and port development plans for the coming mega-port at Punta Colonet.

            "Drop the name-calling." Meteor Blades 2/4/11

            by indycam on Wed Mar 07, 2012 at 09:32:27 PM PST

            [ Parent ]

            •  Wow, crazy stuff (1+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              marina

              I had never heard of it.

              Interesting this: "October 8, 2009, Mexico’s Secretary of Communications and Transport Juan Francisco Molinar Horcasitas said the project would start with a reduced near-term plan to handle one million containers (TEUs) per year, a figure “viable in light of declining Pacific ship traffic.”

              An illustration of how the gigantism of these kinds of things can take on a life of its own - even if it might not really be needed.

              I see no specific mention of coal, but the continued massive growth of the long supply line is part and parcel of the larger systemic problem.

              Thanks for the link -

              •  If they build this port (0+ / 0-)

                the Chinese might decide to ship into and out of it what now goes into and out of the other west coast ports . The dock workers there will be paid far less than their brothers in the USA , the goods might go onto Mexican trucks for shipment into the states killing business at the other ports , making the ports look to shipping coal as a replacement for ...

                "Drop the name-calling." Meteor Blades 2/4/11

                by indycam on Wed Mar 07, 2012 at 10:02:21 PM PST

                [ Parent ]

            •  They're also planning a major expansion (1+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              James Wells

              of the export facilities in Prince Rupert, British Columbia.

              So they just ship the coal from Wyoming to there by rail over some 2,800 miles - that's some rather crazy stuff.

        •  Coal, Tarsands, whatever (0+ / 0-)

          is much like the drug trade.

          As long as there is demand, trying to squelch the supply is massively futile.

          Especially when you live right next door to Canada, who's willing to do all your dirty work for you . .. .

  •  Well, I can answer half of this question: (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    James Wells
    How do we put a price on saving the places that we revere, or on the health of a child?
    If the child is already born, it doesn't matter. There.

    And the sad truth is, that's the truth.

    202-224-3121 to Congress in D.C. USE it! You can tell how big a person is by what it takes to discourage them. "We're not perfect, but they're nuts."--Barney Frank 01/02/2012

    by cany on Wed Mar 07, 2012 at 10:19:05 PM PST

  •  Thanks James (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    James Wells

    I'll read the whole report later today.

    Republicans take care of big money, for big money takes care of them ~ Will Rogers

    by Lefty Coaster on Thu Mar 08, 2012 at 02:45:12 PM PST

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