Periodic Coal Export Update #1

Nicholas Caleb

This is the first installment of what will be a series of updates on the state of the coal export proposals.

Things are heating up on the coal front as hearings and public forums are being held all over Oregon and Washington. The next few months will be crucial for the public to pressure agencies and lawmakers to stop this project. Recent developments include:

(1) The Alliance for Northwest Jobs and Exports -- a pro-coal front group operated by global public relations firm Edelman (Portland & Seattle branches) -- has been busy, airing its first TV ad (above) claiming that both Democrats and Republicans support the exports.


Shipping terminals and coal exports will create thousands of local jobs and millions in new tax revenues for struggling Northwest communities. With advanced technologies and environmental safeguards, each terminal will undergo rigorous reviews to meet tough environmental standards. The choice: create jobs here or watch them go elsewhere. That's why Democrats and Republicans, businesses and unions agree. Build terminals here. Build jobs here.
In short: total BS.

Even big coal's strongest argument -- that they will create thousands of jobs -- can only be seriously entertained if you forget everything you know about the economics of coal. In fact, it seems that the coal companies are using anywhere between a 4 and 6 times multiplier effect to calculate their job numbers. This means that for each job, they just magically assume that four to six new jobs will come as a result without any rationale whatsoever. Because the coal jobs analysis apparently doesn't even consider jobs that would come under threat from the transport of coal through the Gorge (i.e. tourism) or intensifying climate change (everyone), their claims are even more fantastical. In my world, the lack of symmetry in use of their econometrics, omission of critical facts, and dishonest calculation make these job claims easily categorized as outright lies. To give them the benefit of the doubt would be silly and misguided given coal's history of dishonesty with the public.

Further, the "create jobs here or watch them go elsewhere" line is an appeal to the worst instincts people could possibly have at this point in history and is the exact opposite of the solidarity people need to have with one another if the global climate struggle has any hope. In a previous article, I wrote:

This is the race-to-the-bottom mentality that creates the collective action problem, and is precisely the mindset that is responsible for global warming in the first place. If no one starts to take responsibility, no one else will join them. Worrying that you shouldn’t do the right thing, because then maybe you don’t get the devil’s benefits (as you imagine others do), and that maybe, then, you’re the sucker isn't moral reasoning. It's cowardly thinking.
The "advanced technology" claim also appears to be bogus considering that the coal must be transported in open rail cars or barges, lest it spontaneously combust. In addition, exported coal will be burned in Asian powerplants with even poorer technology that what we use domestically. There's no such thing as clean coal no matter how many times the phrase is repeated by commercials, public relations spokespeople, the media, and politicians.

Aside from releasing shoddy and misleading propaganda, ANJE also pulled out one of the oldest tricks in the coal playbook, and are paying people to stand in lines at public hearings wearing pro-coal t-shirts. In the business, we call this astroturfing: spending money to make it look like your cause has grassroots support. Even more obscene is the fact that the people they pay to wear their propaganda are not even going to testify; they just hold places for supporters of the exports, which denies members of the public the opportunity to be heard. Edelman... er... ANJE clarified its propaganda blockade of the hearings by asserting that "hiring day laborers is a necessity to combat environmentalists who have been showing up early to hearings." "Environmentalists", to coal interests, equals anyone who is opposed to coal exports, which is a huge number of people from all walks of life. Coal interests apparently hold the the same regard for public process as they do for the truth: absolutely none.

This is the commercial that the coal companies should be running instead.

(2) The Oregon Department of State Lands has delayed its permit decision on Ambre Energy's proposed Morrow Pacific coal terminal until April 1. The comment period has been extended to December 31st. This is the terminal that would be used to unload coal onto uncovered barges to transport it down the Columbia River where it would eventually be loaded on to ships and transported across the Atlantic.

(3) In the next few weeks, two events are within testifying distance for Portlanders:

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    See you this evening at the Abridge Event Center.

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    So Nicholas, good job of showing what weasels them other guys is, Cads and Bounders too and probably Poltroons as well by the sound of it. Now about some solid factual information on the hazards and measurable damage that would result from transportation through the Gorge or from the existence of a coal terminal in PDX. Please include the number of people put at actual risk, degree of risk, and what that risk might actually be. Thank you.

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      "Now about some solid factual information on the hazards and measurable damage that would result from transportation through the Gorge or from the existence of a coal terminal in PDX. Please include the number of people put at actual risk, degree of risk, and what that risk might actually be."

      For "solid factual information", see this video of the testimony at Portland City Hall before City Council passed a resolution against the coal trains:

      That should answer your initial questions.

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    In reference to good solid evidence of the harm/risks associated with coal trains one needs to credit BNSF for a document that they removed which I can provide access to which states that each coal car will lose two thousand pounds of coal and dust on the trip from Montana to destination. That is about one pound per mile per car. Oh yes then there is that pesky thing called carbon burning. Climate change and the subsidy to investors in China is directly an ignored factor. And in Wyoming it is an Australian mining entity that plans on shipping four hundred fifty million tons of coal down the Gorge. And people were upset about a casino. Gad!


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