Gov. Kitzhaber, Mayor McGinn: No to coal exports

Source: McGinn, Seattle PI • Posted: Friday, February 22, 2013

Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber (r): He delivers a shot across the bow of proposals for big coal export terminals in the Northwest.

Two Northwest political leaders, speaking 180 miles apart, sharply criticized both the local impacts and global implications of the proposed creation of export terminals in Washington and Oregon that would move huge quantities of coal to China.

“Coal trains would be a disaster for our city,” Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn declared in his annual state-of-the-city speech. “. . . These coal trains, each over a mile long, would disrupt our traffic and freight mobility. It would cut off our waterfront and would make it harder for first responders to get to the scene of an emergency.”

As McGinn was acting locally, Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber was thinking nationally and globally in a Portland speech to the American Wind Energy Association.

“One of the largest concerns I have about coal exports out of the West Coast, in addition to all the environmental implications, is the lack of any larger federal energy policy that speaks to what this means,” said Kitzhaber.

“What does it mean for the United States to become a major energy exporting nation? What does it mean in terms of domestic pricing? What does it mean in terms of energy security? And how does that decision, which is being driven only by short-term profit, provide transition for a lower carbon future for the United States?”

“We’re told by supporters that it would create jobs,” McGinn said. “But the impacts to our communities could wipe out more jobs than coal trains would ever create. So we are also conducting an economic impact study so we can have hard data to show what the real impact on jobs would be.”

A group of 10 state legislators from Puget Sound districts, led by Rep. Reuven Carlyle, D-Wash., have called on federal, state and Whatcom County agencies to evaluate statewide impacts of coal trains and coal ports — not just impacts on lands and waters immediately surrounding the Cherry Point site.

Carlyle applauded Kitzhaber’s speech and cited the huge volume of comments received by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Washington Department of Ecology and Whatcom County planners.

“The implications of this are simple: It is absolutely, unequivocally impossible for the Army Corps, the Department of Ecology and Whatcom County not to listen to the 124,000 comments, and not to order a comprehensive, cumulative analysis that puts front and center the impacts of these 19th Century proposals,” said Carlyle.

Schweitzer is no climate change denier. The Montana governor, a Democrat who left office in January, told the Bellingham Herald, however, that coal plants are “baked in” to the economic development of Asian nations, and added:

“It’s nice that you care about climate change but it is not going to change how much carbon dioxide goes into the atmosphere . . . It’s simply giving more coal business to Russia and Australia and less to Montana. The whole notion of ‘act locally, think globally’, I love that it looks good on a T-shirt.”

If the Gateway Pacific project is blocked, Schweitzer argued, Asian nations are not going to tell themselves, “If we can’t get this coal from Montana, we’re going to just blow up this coal plant, live in a cave and eat nuts.”

A prominent University of Montana economist, Dr. Thomas Power, has argued that exports of inexpensive Montana and Wyoming coal will allow China to keep in operation aging and polluting coal plants. China is now the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases.

McGinn is, emphatically, acting locally. He met in November with Bill McKibben, the activist who has led anti-Keystone pipeline demonstrations at the White House, and was arrested there last week along with actress Daryl Hannah, Robert Kennedy Jr. and Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune.

“(McKibben’s) point — We need dramatic steps to reverse course on climate change: I promised then that I would work with the City of Seattle to divest from fossil fuel corporations,” said McGinn. “On Sunday, at a public rally, I met kids from Seattle U and the UW that want their institutions to divest, too. They are the ones who will live with our choices today.”

The speeches would seem to back up a weekend prediction by ex-Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer, who said local opposition makes it unlikely that the largest, most controversial coal port — the proposed Gateway Pacific terminal at Cherry Point north of Bellingham — will get built.

McGinn has asked the Puget Sound Regional Council to put its resources behind a study of “economic, safety, health and traffic impacts on our region of the proposal.” If built, the Gateway Pacific project would bring 18 coal trains each day, each a mile to a mile-and-a-half long, onto railroad tracks that traverse waterfronts in Seattle, Edmonds, Mukilteo, Marysville and Bellingham.