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Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Report: Pacific NW Coal Terminals Are US's Biggest Threat in Climate Change Battle

Posted by on Tue, Jan 22, 2013 at 1:35 PM

Expanding coal exports in the Northwest, including the proposed Cherry Point terminal outside of Bellingham, would produce 420 million tons of carbon pollution annually by 2020, which is more carbon pollution than the entire country of Spain produces, according to a new report released today by Greenpeace.

Ominously titled “The Point of No Return,” the report (.pdf) report notes that the Pacific Northwest poses the greatest threat to climate change in the US.

To make its case, Greenpeace uses data analysis from the environmental consulting firm, Ecofys, to calculate the amount of carbon emissions that would be released if governments and corporations green-light 14 planned coal, oil, and gas projects around the world. Some of the writing is a bit dramatic but their methodical look at how local decisions could impact our global climate is interesting (and scary). For instance:

"In 2020, the emissions from the 14 projects showcased in this report—if they all were to go ahead—would raise global CO2 emissions from fossil fuels by 20% and keep the world on a path towards 5°C to 6°C of warming," the report states. "To avoid the worst impacts of climate change, the rise in global temperatures needs to be limited to below 2°C."

And here's a chart that depicts how our proposed Pacific Northwest coal export terminals compare to other global projects:

  • Greenpeace


Comments (20) RSS

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Let's use our thinking pants:

Is it possible that a single coal terminal in Bellingham, WA (Washington State population: 7 million; coal production: 2.6 million tons in 2006) can produce as much *marginal* carbon pollution as the nation of Spain (population: 47 Million; Coal Production: 9.3 million tons in 2010) already does in the sum of their human activity?

Hint: NOT FUCKING POSSIBLE. Another hint: Greenpeace *MIGHT* be biased. Another hint: please return to Kindergarten level math to figure out if one thing is more than another.
Posted by fetish on January 22, 2013 at 1:50 PM · Report this
Will in Seattle 2
@1 yes it is possible.

Depends on a. type of coal b. where it will be used c. impact of destination (*cough* China *cough*) using US coal instead of switching to alternative low carbon energy sources.

And the mining itself.

People think you do GHG calculations at the point of use (e.g. fake Tunnel is carbon equivalent to Viaduct argument) when in point of fact it's from cradle to grave (literally in the case of 100,000 dead Chinese kids).
Posted by Will in Seattle on January 22, 2013 at 1:54 PM · Report this
@1 Remember that we're talking about exporting 140 million tons of coal per year from OR + WA (with 48 million from Cherry Point alone). A conservative calculation of the carbon emitted from burning that coal would yield roughly 253 million tons of CO2 from all five terminals (and about 87 million from Cherry Point alone). And my figures count only burning the coal.

When you factor in mining, processing, rail transport, port handling, seaborne shipping, more rail transport, and power plant handling I can easily see Greenpeace's numbers as accurate.

The point is: when you actually do the math, you realize that the proposed coal export terminals in the Northwest are climate bombs of staggering proportions.
Posted by Eric de Place on January 22, 2013 at 2:10 PM · Report this
Will in Seattle 4
Remember that a lot of the pollution impact will flow back into the US too, if it's used in NE China, S Korea, or Japan. Wind respects no national boundaries.
Posted by Will in Seattle on January 22, 2013 at 2:14 PM · Report this
@2 - you cant do this if you aren't also making the same calculation. Where is that Spanish coal going? They can switch to lower carbon options just as well. They have to mine it, sell it, transport it just like we do here.
Straight up, Spain is already producing more coal than Washington State does in it's entirety - an unless this terminal is set to increase WA's coal output by 400% or more, we're not even in the same ballpark and that's just for the "coal side" of the equation.

That doesn't count C emissions from drivers in Spain, from other Spanish industries, and so on. The entirety of Spanish industry (again, several times larger than WA state) against the marginal activity of the coal terminal.
Posted by fetish on January 22, 2013 at 2:25 PM · Report this
Are the coal terminals going to increase coal burning?

Won't the importers just burn coal from some other source?
Posted by GermanSausage on January 22, 2013 at 2:26 PM · Report this
Will in Seattle 7
@6 not necessarily.

Most of their coal has a very high sulfur content, so importing higher grade US coal - still dirty from a carbon GHG impact - perpetuates the carbon regime of China not switching to other energy sources.

Water scrubbing of coal stack emissions is a problem in some areas, and drives the cost up, which reduces coal use.

Everything is connected. If we stop subsidizing their bad behavior, they change it.
Posted by Will in Seattle on January 22, 2013 at 2:40 PM · Report this
Will in Seattle 8
@5 and yet, shipping coal from Spain to China drives up the cost to China, causing them to ... use less coal.

Everything is connected. Trying to pretend China should get an exemption when they are THE TOP CARBON POLLUTER IN THE WORLD ... there's the problem.
Posted by Will in Seattle on January 22, 2013 at 2:42 PM · Report this
@5 and @6, it's a somewhat complicated issue, but here's the simplest way of thinking about it: the US has the world's largest coal reserves and China is the world's largest coal consumer. The road between those two places leads through the NW. So that's why these terminals matter.

The more complicated answer is that, yes, China will increase coal consumption but it's hard to judge the precise magnitude of the effect. US coal consumption is falling rapidly and it's difficult and expensive to move it to market abroad. The one place where there may be a viable market is East Asia, so the coal industry is frantically trying to develop West Coast port capacity. If they can't move our coal overseas, it probably won't get burned.

On the other side of the ocean, China isn't set on using any fixed amount of coal. They'll use what they can get economically or use other fuel sources if those are cheaper. (And there's ample evidence that the Chinese would actually prefer to move away from coal.) When we facilitate 140 million tons of coal into the Pacific seaborne market, that makes a potentially big difference in the price and demand of coal consumers.

BTW, the coal would exported from OR & WA but mined in Montana and Wyoming. We don't produce any coal here, so that's not the issue. The issue is whether we become a gateway for it when the coal industry has few alternatives to get it to market.
Posted by Eric de Place on January 22, 2013 at 2:42 PM · Report this
Will in Seattle 10
According to a series of articles by Chinese scientists in Renewable and Energy Reviews and in Energy Policy, a reduction in cost for coal in China would reduce the growth of the use of wind energy in China, which is currently growing quickly as a percentage of total Chinese energy supply, and increase pollution, water, health, and childhood death in China.

But, hey, those are just what the Chinese say. Let's ignore them and listen to the moneylenders in the temple ... um, I mean the coal port terminal "experts".
Posted by Will in Seattle on January 22, 2013 at 4:24 PM · Report this
According to a comment on Rueven Carlyle's FB thread, it is worse than just transporting the coal:

The impact to Puget Sound may be worse than the train impact. Cherry Point is an aquatic reserve and there they will pile the coal up on 80 acres, water it with 50-million gallons daily, then load it onto 2 massive tankers daily using a conveyor belt. It's in that process that the coal dust will be hardest to control and will coat the waters. That (along with the massive tankers) ends the crab fishery, the eel grass beds and herring population.

Posted by Supreme Ruler Of The Universe http://_ on January 22, 2013 at 4:28 PM · Report this

Why in the world are they making all this effort to run it right up the whole coast of Washington. Can't they just bring it to an industrial port like Tacoma and ship it from there?
Posted by Supreme Ruler Of The Universe http://_ on January 22, 2013 at 4:44 PM · Report this
Will in Seattle 13
@12 shipping in a busy location like the Puget Sound exposes them to massive liability if they (as they will, inevitably) have an accident here.

Same reason we don't run tankers through the sound. The lawsuits would eat them alive. Which drives up the cost.
Posted by Will in Seattle on January 22, 2013 at 4:51 PM · Report this

Yeah, but it's coal..a bunch of rocks. It's not gonna spill all over the place, right?
Posted by Supreme Ruler Of The Universe http://_ on January 22, 2013 at 5:34 PM · Report this
@ 14
In Cienna's article on Jan 9, she notes among the dangers "Toxic Dust, Derailments, and Spontaneous Combustion".…
Posted by nyakpup on January 22, 2013 at 7:57 PM · Report this
The existing public ports are not able or willing to accept coal -- too much volume, not very profitable compared to other types of freight, liability issues, etc -- so the proposed shipping facilities are private, profit-making ventures. Construction of the Bellingham/Cherry Point facility would involve filling hundreds of acres of wetlands, among other impacts.
Posted by MsBoyer on January 22, 2013 at 8:15 PM · Report this
Catalina Vel-DuRay 17
My hometown, Council Bluffs Iowa, has a huge, filthy coal plant on the edge of town, and on the banks of he Missouri River.

This is a picture of it.…

Why should we have something like this on Puget Sound, only to benefit a Communist state? It's a crazy idea. .
Posted by Catalina Vel-DuRay on January 22, 2013 at 8:40 PM · Report this
Westlake, son! 18
Dear hippies with nothing to live for, go read The Monkey Wrench Gang. You know what to do.
Posted by Westlake, son! on January 22, 2013 at 10:04 PM · Report this
prompt 19
This argument is starting to get ridiculous. Either they ship it from Washington, or they do it in BC. China needs a reason not to invest hugely into coal for us to stop it. The whole "you can't use it if we aren't shipping it" doesn't work when they can ship it from other places.
Posted by prompt on January 23, 2013 at 3:36 AM · Report this
Catalina Vel-DuRay 20
"China needs a reason not to invest hugely in coal for us to stop it"

My, how compliant of you, dear. What happens when China finds some fourth world hellhole closer to home that has coal? We'd be stuck with a huge environmental mess on our shores, another Anaconda Smelter.

Yes, the coal companies and the BNSF want this.the coal companies because they are a dying industry, and the railroads because it's one of the easiest frieghts for them to handle. A few unions want this because it will give their members work, and that's what unions do. But no one else wants this stink bomb.

China can take care of itself. This should not be our problem. It's only corporate greed.
Posted by Catalina Vel-DuRay on January 23, 2013 at 6:29 AM · Report this

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