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Thursday, January 31, 2013

If There's One Thing the Chinese Need, It's More Coal!

Posted by on Thu, Jan 31, 2013 at 9:32 AM

As we continue to debate whether to export 50 million tons of dirty coal a year through the Pacific Northwest, we might want to consider the health and welfare of the people where most of that coal is going: China.

The Beijing government put in place emergency measures on Wednesday to try to combat thick smog that has encased the city... The effort came on the second straight day of air that was rated “hazardous” by the standards of the United States Environmental Protection Agency. That rating, in which the air quality index surpasses 300, means people should not venture outdoors at all.

[...] Beijing sits in the middle of an industrial belt of coal-burning factories... The United States Energy Information Administration released a report on Tuesday that said China now accounts for 47 percent of global coal consumption, almost equal to all other countries in the world combined. Coal consumption in China grew by more than 9 percent in 2011, or 325 million tons, which equaled 87 percent of the total global rise in coal use.

Yeah, that's the ticket. What the Chinese need now is more cheap coal!

I think there's a strong economic argument to make that the negative impact on freight mobility in Washington State alone far outweighs the benefit of the couple hundred permanent jobs these coal terminals might create. But the environmental arguments are overwhelming. These coal trains would be bad for the communities they run through, bad for the Chinese communities in which the coal is burned, and bad for climate change. How can we possibly approve this environmental fiasco with a clear conscience?

 

Comments (22) RSS

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24
Outlaw coal trains to pass through Washington. Post the Washington State national guard at the Idaho border. If the coal is going to a Canadian port ship it from Montana directly to Alberta. Let the Canadians suffer.
Posted by RodneyRodriguez on February 1, 2013 at 9:40 AM · Report this
23
Not to mention decreased waterfront property values generating less property tax revenue negatively impacting public school revenue. Historically rail mitigation has been paid at a 95/5% split. 95% paid by taxpayers and 5% by rail.
Posted by RodneyRodriguez on February 1, 2013 at 9:33 AM · Report this
22
@7 - I don't have a comprehensive criticism of Wolak's argument but some of the assumptions he makes appear to be flawed. I note that he buys uncritically that US CO2 emissions decreased thanks to increased use of natural gas whereas the main drop in CO2 emissions is concurrent with the post-2008 drop in total energy use, which suggests that CO2 emissions would increase again during economic recovery. Some of the drop in CO2 emissions is undoubtedly due to natural gas replacing coal but unaccounted for methane leaks during natural gas mining may make total GHG emissions worse than when using coal. Second, there are several reasons to question the belief that natural gas prices will stay low since the reserves are vastly overestimated (by a factor of ~2 or more between USGS versus industry estimates) and since the economics of shale gas extraction are dubious at best insofar investors are losing their pants and this bubble appears about to burst.
Posted by anon1256 on January 31, 2013 at 3:27 PM · Report this
21
@20: Yes, it always seemed to me that open topped coal trains were a huge sitting target for some sort of low-tech firebomb attack--molotov cocktails dropped from bridges, etc. Cheap, portable, a horrible homeland security issue.
Posted by tiktok on January 31, 2013 at 12:51 PM · Report this
Fnarf 20
What about the mitigation provided by dropping lit smoke bombs into the open coal cars as they pass by on their way to the Great Northern Tunnel through Seattle? Every train has to pass through that tunnel, which is literally inches from some downtown office building basements. And that Powder River coal is notoriously flammable; it's been known to burn for days, and even self-combust.

If a three-hour traffic jam doesn't get people riled up, how about a huge coal fire directly underneath Fourth and Seneca? Think that would get anybody's attention?

Someone with a good arm might be able to hit one of those trains from the walkway at CenturyLink.
Posted by Fnarf http://www.facebook.com/fnarf on January 31, 2013 at 12:34 PM · Report this
Will in Seattle 19
You can bike to an arena. You can skateboard there too. You can even ride light rail or walk.

Same is not true of the child-killing pollution and coal dust from coal exports.
Posted by Will in Seattle http://www.facebook.com/WillSeattle on January 31, 2013 at 11:37 AM · Report this
keshmeshi 18
You'd think if anyone could power their society with something other than the dirtiest fossil fuel in existence, it would be China's command economy. There really is no hope for us as a species.
Posted by keshmeshi on January 31, 2013 at 11:32 AM · Report this
Goldy 17
@16 No one can mitigate the impact in Seattle, period. Neither BNSF or the coal companies have any legal obligation to mitigate impacts in the communities through which those trains run. None. Zero. Nada.

So don't buy the story that if we ship it from WA we can at least mitigate the impacts. Maybe at the coal terminal itself, but not along the train routes. Won't happen.
Posted by Goldy on January 31, 2013 at 11:27 AM · Report this
16
If it goes to China via BC no one can mitigate impacts, not even in Seattle. Simple.
Posted by hmmmmm on January 31, 2013 at 11:02 AM · Report this
15
But even if "we" don't ship it out, the trains will likely roll through. If Cherry Point is not selected, or Longview, in most likelihood, the coal will be sent by rail up to BC to ship to China.
Preventing export from Washington ports will not necessarily prevent the trains from rolling through Washington.
Posted by TJ on January 31, 2013 at 10:53 AM · Report this
14
@9, those are great ideas for lipsticking this pig if it does come to town. I agree with Fnarf's suggestion yesterday that the opposition drop the environmental veneer and build meaningful opposition by focusing on the prospects for it being a sporting-event traffic and shipping nightmare.

The environmental stuff has already won over those whom it can win over. Now reach the rest, the majority who don't oppose the project yet: make the resistance about sports fans getting stuck and existing shippers losing jobs, and you get their attention.

Yes, it means some enviro-dabblers drawn to the opposition will have to seek common cause with - gasp! - car drivers and industrial interests. It can be done!
Posted by gloomy gus on January 31, 2013 at 10:39 AM · Report this
Unregistered User 13
How about Nuclear?
Posted by Unregistered User on January 31, 2013 at 10:38 AM · Report this
Fnarf 12
Block user "tipuasher" @10 for spam, please.

I agree, Goldy, but the enviro argument is a non-starter, unfortunately. Nobody in America gives a shit about pollution in China, and mentioning "global warming" is like mentioning "gun control" -- it leads to instant mobilization and stasis, and absolutely guarantees that the trains will come.

The freight argument is a winner, though. These trains are job killers, not job winners, and ultimately benefit Long Beach, California, not Washington, as they get all the container traffic while we get the infinite lump of coal.
Posted by Fnarf http://www.facebook.com/fnarf on January 31, 2013 at 10:32 AM · Report this
Catalina Vel-DuRay 9
The arena's traffic problems would be highly localized and only on certain days. The coal trains would be each and every day, until the Chinese find cheaper coal, and we are stuck with a big stupid coal terminal and the associated clean up costs. And don't think that won't happen. In the meantime, we want to create a 21st century version of the Anaconda Smelter just to satisfy a few corporations and a communist dictatorship who should be able to figure this problem out on their own.

The BNSF should be forced to, as part of the mitigation of this stupid, stupid, project, fund the construction of viaducts over Lander, Holgate and Forest streets. This would help with the arena traffic problems as well.

Please remember that I don't care about the arena one way or another. If I had my way, they'd just use the Key Arena and not have some silly new glamor thing built. But trying to compare the impact of a new arena in SODO to continuous coal train traffic is just silly. At least make the BNSF pay for the problems this is going to create.
Posted by Catalina Vel-DuRay http://www.danlangdon.com on January 31, 2013 at 10:20 AM · Report this
8

Fuel cells now.
Posted by Supreme Ruler Of The Universe http://_ on January 31, 2013 at 10:20 AM · Report this
7
The notion that China's coal-burning or climate change will be reduced by stopping this project is appealing, but I'm not sure it's supported by enough facts to hold it up. As I mentioned in a thread to one of yesterday's coal posts, a fairly prominent Stanford prof concludes that shipping China U.S. coal has a very good chance of hurrying China's transition away from coal while improving the U.S.'s own contribution to climate change. I don't see evidence that they're shills or anything.
In this piece, the crux of NRDC's questioning of the theory is whether Chinese demand is as "inelastic" as the prof suggests.
http://news.stanford.edu/news/2013/janua…
Posted by gloomy gus on January 31, 2013 at 10:17 AM · Report this
Phoebe in Wallingford 6
I overwhelmingly agree with you on this matter, Goldy.
Posted by Phoebe in Wallingford on January 31, 2013 at 10:14 AM · Report this
Jaymz 5
Also, prevailing upper atmospheric currents will continue to bring pollution from China across the Pacific Ocean - global climate change will be affected, yes, but there will be a more concentrated air quality impact locally over time as China continues to burn massive amounts of coal.
Posted by Jaymz on January 31, 2013 at 10:14 AM · Report this
Goldy 4
@2 Both arenas and coal trains create traffic in Sodo, though I would argue that the trains create worse East-West problems. But that's not my main concern. If you actually clicked through the link I provided, you'd read:

But increased rail traffic presents a more existential threat. According to a 2006 report from the Washington State Transportation Commission, "chronic choke points" and "frequent stoppages" along the I-5 rail corridor are causing delays throughout the system. Freight tonnage was projected to increase 60 percent by 2025 even before the coal terminals were proposed, and the report warns that this shift toward high-volume rail could be "problematic for Washington State's manufacturers and agricultural shippers." Faced with increased competition from trains assembled in Montana and unloaded in Bellingham, Seattle shippers would pay higher prices while suffering further delays.


We simply don't have the freight rail capacity in WA state to accommodate both the coal traffic and the rest of the projected freight demands. Shippers will be competing for a scarce resource.
Posted by Goldy on January 31, 2013 at 10:03 AM · Report this
theophrastus 3
How can we possibly approve this environmental fiasco with a clear conscience?
well, we can't. so that's why the loudest shrieking tends to be economy based rationalizations. most commonly: if we don't ship it, someone else will! followed by theytookerjobs!

if a deal with the devil has to be struck, better it be the keystone pipeline than this nightmare.
Posted by theophrastus on January 31, 2013 at 10:01 AM · Report this
2
Goldy: if coal trains are bad for freight mobility, then why aren't arenas bad for freight mobility? Answer: because you personally want one, but not the other.
Posted by hmmmmm on January 31, 2013 at 9:56 AM · Report this
Zebes 1
Because JAWBZ
Posted by Zebes http://www.badrap.org/rescue/index.html on January 31, 2013 at 9:52 AM · Report this

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