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.
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.
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.
- 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.
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.
Not in Our community.
Not in any other place.
Not Any More.
Photos by permission from Paul Anderson.
- 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
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