The plan is to dig up two trillion pounds of rocks and ship them 6,000 miles to China. There they will light those rocks on fire, so they can make more pieces of cheap plastic crap that we will buy and then owe them even more money, while we choke on their pollution. What could possibly go wrong?
In the year 2012, if this is the best new project we can think of to improve our livelihood, we are in serious trouble.
In a nutshell:
1) Dig up trillions of pounds of rocks and send them to China to be lit on fire
2) Hammer local communities over hundreds of miles of rail corridor
3) Make a large contribution to destroying our climate
4) Do all of this instead of concentrating on clean, efficient, value-added projects
From those shining bright lights at Peabody Coal, Burlington Northern Railroad, Goldman Sachs, and SSA Marine, comes the proposed Cherry Point WA Coal Export Terminal. That's right, their solution to our economic woes is - wait for this amazing idea:
Turn us into a coal colony for China
Not new clean energy jobs. Not high technology. Not new opportunities for America. Just .... digging up rocks.
Coal shipping lane?
The plan is to dig up as much as 48 million tons of coal a year from the Powder River Basin in Wyoming and Montana. This coal will be shipped by rail for hundreds of miles across the west, traveling directly through downtowns large and small. It will be loaded onto the world's largest ships in Cherry Point, WA in a huge coal terminal, the largest in North America. The massive Cape Class ships, imperiling wildlife, fisheries and smaller craft along their path, will cross the Pacific Ocean and then unload in China, where yet another rail journey will take the coal to some of the the many new coal-burning power plants that are currently under construction or will be built in the future.
This is a project that has literally everything, and I mean everything, wrong with it. No matter what angle you choose to look at, something is wrong. The entire and only reason for this project is to accumulate more money for, you guessed it, billionaires.
It's hard to know where to start. The reality that this is actually a serious proposal - it's like living inside the worst kind of Dilbert cartoon.
The project is likely to hammer local communities and economies along its path. While the projects promoters push a few mining jobs at one end and some port loading jobs at the other, every place in between will suffer from the influx of up to 18 trains, each a mile and a half long, each and every day of the year. These trains will hit quality of life and home values along the tracks and strangle development opportunities in areas that require regular crossings but don't have overpasses. Ambulances will wait for long minutes as trains of 150 or more coal cars block their way.
So much more than what can be extracted
In a notable local example, the Bellingham waterfront appears finally ready to get un-mired and start its redevelopment process. The problem is that the waterfront would be cut off from the rest of town by the increased train traffic. For potentially interested parties, anywhere in the spectrum from retail to high technology, this traffic is something that could well tip the balance away from making a decision to move to our town. Beautiful waterfront small town - great! Coal town - I don't think so. Let's look somewhere else.
Those same trains are going to emit dangerous pollutants which, when you add up the impacts and numbers over the years, are definitely going to make some number of people seriously sick and yes, going to kill some number of people.
Stepping back to an even larger picture, the coal exports are intended to supply new coal-fired power plants in China. That's right - fuel for coal plants that have not even been built yet. This, at a time when expanding coal capacity has been identified as the single largest deal-breaker in any efforts to save our climate. Quoting James Hansen from his book "Storms of My Grandchildren":
It's crucial that we immediately recognize the need to reduce atmopheric carbon dioxide to at most 350 ppm in order to avoid disaster for coming generations. Such a reduction is still practical, but just barely. It requires a prompt phaseout of coal emissions, plus improved forestry and agricultural practies.
Promoting ever-more GHG emissions in China provides a convenient twofer for polluters here in the US. How many times have we heard "There's no point in reducing emissions here, they'll just burn more in China." So, what could be better than working to assure that emissions in China continue to increase? It's a free pass to pollute more here!
Listen - if we send them all that coal, and then we buy the products that they made with the resulting power, who owns those emissions? Yep - we do.
Seriously. Staying on this for a moment: It is imperative that we stop large scale coal development to save our climate, so we plan one of the largest coal export plans ever anywhere, to support new coal capacity. It's hard to overstate what a wrong direction this is. By analogy, imagine if some people from one country attacked us, and in response we invaded some other completely uninvolved country. That would be just crazy if that happened. Oh, wait ...
Komo Kulshan weeps for our folly
The project proponents knew from the start that once the general public knew the full extent and impacts of this plan, opposition would rise, and then rise some more. That's why they did their best to put The Fix
in. The Fix, very much like the plan to grease the skids for Keystone, was to line up an apparent fait-accompli. Now that I have disqualified myself for any kind of public office by writing a phrase in French, a fait-accompli means:
It's going to happen no matter what, so you may as well support it and get some crumbs.
In this case part of The Fix was a plan to dust off a completely different permit issued years ago, and re-purpose it for a vastly larger and completely different operation. Their original project plan and schedule shows that the project proponents never had any intention of doing the legally required reviews. The plan was to be breaking ground in a year from inception, a time frame that absolutely, positively precludes the type of review that federal and state law requires.
At the same time, SSA and its allies worked hard to create an impression that it was hopeless to oppose the project, repeatedly putting out the lie that if the coal terminal were blocked, then the same trains would just go on the same rail lines up to Canada and be unloaded there (reality: Just Not True).
All in all, it has been an effort to fool and bully all the communities in the path of the project into participating in their own destruction.
Of course, the project proponents present their proposal as the newest, state of the art, flawless new way to do things. If this sounds as familiar as an oil pipeline that won't leak, it should ring a bell. The reality is that all fossil fuel projects have what is called "excursions", being cases where what's happening is not what was supposed to happen, in the bad sense. There's already strong reason to believe that this project will follow this trend.
Please don't have an excursion here
For instance, before any permit was issued, SSA's bulldozers woke up one day and went on a little excursion, clearing trees from legally protected wetlands far from their existing site. That's right - they say they'll do everything right, but they can't drive a bulldozer within a mile of where it's supposed to be.
Fortunately, communities along the project corridor are waking up. Here are some recent efforts and coverage:
- 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
- Lots of LTEs such as this great one
- Protectwhatcom has even more info (h/t aliasalias)
Time is on our side. The Fix failed to railroad the project through ("railroaded" - not a coincidence, eh?), and now the expected timeline to start of construction is farther away than it was when they started. The more time passes, the more everyone learns about just how bad this proposal is. Ultimately, if we vigorously defend every rock and every tree along the permitting process, the window of opportunity for this destructive scheme will close.
There are aways defeatists who say you can't stop the hydra, they will commit their destruction here or elsewhere. At some point, and we are at that point, we have to say Not Here, and trust that our neighbors elsewhere will do the same for their communities, breaking the vicious cycle of divide and conquer.
Dumbest idea ever? Ok, ok. There have historically been a few ideas that are just a bit worse.
But really - it is the dumbest idea in front of us right now.
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 in Our community.
Not in any other place.
Not Next Year.
We shall not participate in our own Destruction.