Periodic Coal Update #2

Nicholas Caleb

Kari already published some coal truth this week through his post on the global-danger-posed-by-versus-comparably-low-local-economic-benefits of Northwest coal exports (after taking into account economic sectors that would be negatively impacted by the effects of coal and externalities, I strongly doubt there would be any net local economic benefits), but there's still a lot more to update folks on in the fight against coal:

(1) The Coal Export Climate Impact

Though the direct effects of coal dust on people's immediate health combined with the phenomenon of more mercury being rained down on the Pacific Northwest are bad enough, burning coal also forces massive amounts of carbon into the atmosphere and is a major factor in human-caused climate change. In fact, if coal exports are allowed, they will be the single largest US contribution to climate change.

Greenpeace released a press release describing the findings of the recent "Point of No Return" report:

The proposed expansion of US coal exports would produce 420 million tonnes of carbon emissions annually by 2020 – or more carbon pollution than the entire country of Spain produces. Coal exports ranked as the number one threat to the climate of all planned US fossil fuel projects.

The majority of the emissions for the proposed US coal exports expansion come from the plans of three coal companies – Ambre Coal, Arch Coal, and Peabody Coal – to move publicly-owned coal from the Powder River Basin in Wyoming and Montana to five proposed ports in Oregon and Washington in order to ship it to Asia

[. . .]

US government policy will be pivotal in deciding whether coal exports and other projects on the list go forward, including Arctic oil drilling (520 million tonnes CO2), deepwater oil drilling in the Gulf of Mexico (350 million tonnes CO2), and U.S. shale gas drilling or fracking (280 million tonnes CO2).

Greenpeace also released a new video about the coal exports (see embedded video):

And to stick with Greenpeace, Bethany Cotton, Greenpeace coal campaign organizer, teamed up with pediatric nurse Marilee Dea to talk coal on KBOO this past Monday.

(2) Scoping Updates

Blogger Lefty Coaster posted an update on the federal scoping process on Daily Kos last weekend (with lots of references to the great work being done by Floyd McKay at Crosscut). Highlights include:

Eight thousand people attended seven scoping sessions. About 750 of them spoke. Others signed comment sheets. An online scoping site collected over 10,000 comments. It was the biggest turnout of its kind in Northwest history.


Final decisions on a host of permits aren’t expected until at least 2016 and legal appeals are inevitable. Even the most-optimistic timeline forecasts agree that no coal will be loaded onto Asia-bound ships until 2018, probably later—if at all. The sheer size and complexity of the project, the controversial nature of the coal it will load and the number of governmental agencies involved promise bumps and even some craters in the long and winding road to the terminal.

Though these developments seem positive, any number of things could happen to push this process forward faster. The easiest and most effective way of dealing with coal exports are to keep the pressure on and kill these projects now.

(3) Port of Morrow Permit Process & State Environmental Authority

One of the ways of stopping these projects is at the state level through the denial of permits. For the Port of Morrow Project the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality will issue draft permits in March with possible public hearings in April. In addition, the Department of State Lands decision is due April 1st. I'll give an update when these events occur so we can demand, en masse, public hearings and state action.

There are plenty of other ways for the State of Oregon to exercise its regulatory authority (not to mention municipalities and counties exercising home rule authority). If our officials don't act, it's not because of a lack of power, but a lack of political will. Keeping pressure on elected officials on the extent of their options is important on not allowing them to make excuses for inaction.

In future posts, I'm going to laboriously go through exactly what regulatory powers local activists and attorneys think the state has with regard to coal exports.

(4) Coal Export Forum at Concordia University

Concordia University will host a Coal Export Forum on the campus tonight, Jan. 31 at 7 PM (link to the Facebook event page). It is my understanding that this is the first public forum on a university campus to specifically address the coal export issue. The program, so far, as described in a press release by organizer (and outstanding student) Akash Singh:

Confirmed speakers are Bethany Cotton (Greenpeace), Liz Fuller and Brian Gard (Gard Communications) and Dr. Andy Harris (Physicians for Social Responsibility).

Dr. Charles Kunert, Dean of the College of Theology, Arts, and Sciences will moderate the forum. The format will allow for speakers to introduce their respective positions, moderator questions, audience questions, and time for audience members to interact with one another after the formal program.

(5) The Sierra Club Endorses Civil Disobedience in Keystone XL Struggle

For the first time in its 120 year history, the Sierra Club has approved of civil disobedience in a one-time peaceful protest against the Keystone XL Pipeline. As noted above, the Northwest Coal Exports would actually contribute more carbon to the atmosphere per year than Keystone XL. If I were a member, I might contact the Sierra Club and make the case for a similar direct action effort on coal exports.


Here is the video from last night's coal forum.


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