On the upper West Cost, the battle over coal exportation terminals and the multistate transfer of coal via trains still rages. This follows both the Seattle City Council’s passing of a resolution in late May opposing further development of coal export terminals in Washington state and the Port of Morrow battle in April with the environmental group Earth Justice.
Many environmentalists believe, along with the Seattle City Council, that poisonous chemicals and coal dust will leach from train cars and barges during transport, thus threatening local populations.
Defenders of the terminals stand by their industry, however, claiming that the reports of stray coal dust are exaggerated while their industry is creating jobs and stimulating local economies.
“Those coal dust estimates are grossly exaggerated,” Brian Gard of Ambre Energy, the company developing two of the six terminals, told the Portland Tribune last month.
If exportation terminals were to be established, the coal, which is mined in neighboring states, would travel by train through those states to the exporting facilities in Oregon and Washington. Then the coal would be loaded onto barges and shipped off to feed the demand in Asia.
The demand for coal is especially high in China, and it is projected to exceed 50 percent of the global demand within the next four years, according to the International Energy Agency.
Another entity opposing the terminals is the environmental group Clark County Clean Air Coalition, which successfully fought to keep a biomass energy plant from being built in downtown Vancouver. Currently, the group is attempting to halt development of the six coal terminals in Washington and Oregon.
“What happens when the outside world intrudes on your local community is you must stand up and define what your community values are,” said Heather Lehman of the Clark County Clean Air Coalition, according to The Columbian. “If Vancouver stands up, it will help everyone down the line.”The coal terminals would be situated on the upper-West Coast, stretching from Coos Bay, Ore., up to Bellingham, Wash., with three facilities in each state. The coal would travel from the Powder River Basin in Montana and Wyoming.
Other environmental factors, not including stray coal dust from trains, could have an even bigger impact on the West Coast’s ecosystem, as well as on economic and political policies. Namely, coal burned in Asia releases pollutants that make their way to North America via trade winds. According to a study published in 2006 by the Journal of Geophysical Research, 18 percent of the mercury atop Mount Bachelor came from Asia, mainly from coal plants.
“Coal-fired energy production in Asia has been directly linked to increases in air pollution on the West Coast of the United States,” said Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber, according to The Columbian.
If we continue to supply China and India with enough coal for them to develop more coal plants, “It becomes mathematically impossible to stabilize the climate at safe levels,” said K.C. Golden, policy director for Climate Solutions, to the Portland Tribune.
However, some economists believe that China’s demand for coal has not only been decreasing, but will also continue to decrease in the future, making this exporting trend temporary.
Paul Thiers, associate professor of political science at Washington State University–Vancouver, said that the prospect of China having an endless demand for coal is a myth, according to The Columbian. Coal consumption in China fell in 2008, rising again only after an economic stimulus package, reported The Columbian.
“The national government of China does not see coal exports from the United States as a long-term solution,” added Thiers, according to The Columbian. “They see it as very temporary.”