Protecting Oregon's Clean Economy from Coal Exports

Nick Engelfried

"Rather than build coal export terminals, Oregon should continue investing in the creative solutions that have already made us a clean energy leader."

During his first six months in office, John Kitzhaber has already helped Oregon build the reputation as a green industry leader we will need to achieve economic recovery. Early accomplishments like Cool Schools will help put Oregonians back to work, while creating a business environment friendly to twenty-first century clean energy job creators.

But building a clean economy also means making wise choices to protect Oregon from projects that discourage other business and negatively impact our competitiveness. Oregon now faces just such a threat: proposed coal export terminals near Boardman and St Helens, which would turn our state into a throughway for coal shipments headed abroad while exposing Oregon communities to pollution.

The time has come for Governor Kitzhaber, as Oregon’s highest-ranking state elected official, to take a strong position against coal exports. In so doing, he can send a message that Oregon is serious about remaining a leader in clean energy.

Oregon isn’t the first state to be faced with this choice. Our neighbors in Washington are already looking at proposed coal export terminals in Bellingham and Longview. Elected leaders in Washington, like Mayor Dan Pike of Bellingham, have already come out against coal exports, citing concerns about the impact of increased coal train traffic on city intersections, and the effects of coal dust and diesel fumes on public health.

Exporting coal creates few jobs, while actually discouraging other kinds of business locally. How many cutting-edge clean tech companies want to locate next to a coal stockpile of the type proposed in Bellingham, which would cover eighty acres and store close the three million metric tons of coal at a given time? Dust from open air stockpiles and coal trains detracts from local livability, with serious implications for home values and attractiveness to business.

Perhaps most worrying of all, exporting coal simply isn’t the kind of development that makes sense for Oregon. We’re facing the possibility of the Northwest becoming a “resource colony” for countries like China and India, sending raw materials abroad so other nations can use them to make high-end products like wind turbines and solar panels. This isn’t a winning equation for Oregon business.

Rather than build coal export terminals, Oregon should continue investing in the creative solutions that have already made us a clean energy leader. Oregon’s clean tech sector is adding jobs five times faster than the rest of the economy, and we have more green energy jobs per capita than any other state.

Exporting coal on a large scale is incompatible with the kind of industry that will allow Oregon to stay competitive in the clean economy. With Washington leaders already looking askance at coal exports, Oregon’s elected officials shouldn’t be taken in by similar projects proposed in Boardman, St Helens, and soon maybe elsewhere as well.

The time is ripe for our governor to once again stand up for the clean energy future Oregon is working towards. Governor Kitzhaber, will you help?

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    This was the upshot of the Obama Dept. of Interior selling all those new coal leases in the Powder River basin, Wyoming: that it would not lead to more coal-fired plants being built in the U.S. but, rather, would lead to dramatically increased export of coal.

    Coal needs to be stopped, ASAP. It's as simple as that. Christian Parenti has just written a book about the displacements and conflicts that are due to climate change. More coal being used anywhere exacerbates this!

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    Hi Nick,

    What power does the Gov have to stop it?

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      The governor appoints members of Oregon's Environmental Quality Commission, who hire DEQ staff who will almost certainly need to sign off on any coal export project in the state. Perhaps more importantly for the moment, by making a public statement opposing coal exports Kitzhaber can send a strong message to investors that Oregon isn't interested in exporting coal.

      This is a perfect time for our governor to show once again that Oregon will lead the economy of the twenty-first century, rather than clinging to nineteenth century technologies that produce few jobs in our state.

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