Friday, December 31, 2010

Old King Coal not such a merry old soul

Laramie River coal plant near Wheatland 

China burns half of the world's coal production every year. It pollutes its air and kills its people, making heart disease the nation's number one killer. China's fossil-fuel habit is one of the main culprits of global warming.

Wyoming and Montana companies dig thousands of tons of coal from the ground every day. Our power plants can't burn all that coal to send power to Colorado and Texas and Utah. Other U.S. plants can't burn that much coal. Many states, Texas included, are scrubbing plans for new coal-fired plants.

To fill China's endless coal appetite, and to contribute to the further spread of cardiopulmonary illnesses, our states want to export more coal to China. There's money to be made, too. Not only for the coal companies, but for severance taxes which pay the salaries of government workers such as myself.

But Washington state is getting in the way of progress.

The Cowboy State and The Treasure State want to ship their coal directly to Asia through a port in Cowlitz County, Washington (a.k.a. The Gateway to Mt. St. Helens). Officials in the county have approved an upgrade to its Columbia River port, but environmental groups say not so fast (from the Casper Star-Tribune). 
On Tuesday, the Washington Department of Ecology petitioned to intervene in the appeal filed by Earthjustice. Ecology spokeswoman Kim Schmanke said the agency wants a seat at the table because it may be asked to approve other permits for the project.
Gov. Brian Schweitzer plans to travel to Washington state next week to seek support for the project. He said he's going to tell state officials it's irrational for them to oppose a port to export Montana coal when utilities that serve Washington state burn Montana coal.Freudenthal said Thursday that he would not expect Schweitzer to accomplish anything but making the trip. 
Freudenthal doubts Washington state officials will receive advice from someone from another state any more than Wyoming officials do when they get similar visits from an outsider. 
The immediate problem, Freudenthal said, is how to get the port exporting Wyoming coal. The larger issue is the need to figure out carbon capture and sequestration in order to receive support from the "rational" environmental groups, he said.
Meanwhile, Gov.-elect Matt Mead is working on a letter of support to send with Schweitzer next week, Mead spokeswoman Susan Anderson said Thursday. Mead takes office Monday. 
Freudenthal said people need to realize that the coal industry is "at risk" whether they agree that climate change is real or not. "This is about coal production, market share and jobs," Freudenthal said.
We're going to see more of these conflicts as we attempt to switch from fossil fuels to alternative energy sources that don't melt the ice caps and lead to the flooding of port cities from Seattle to San Diego. Red states want to ship their coal to China but the coastal blue states won't let them. No alternative but to send it to Houston and then on to the Panama Canal and then on to China. But that route would add time and miles and make the whole enterprise less cost-effective. The states could send the coal to Vancouver, B.C., which shipped about 26 million tons of coal to China this year. But how would that look, red-state Wyoming shipping its coal from Socialist Canada?

Even George Will is getting into the act. In a column this week, he could barely contain his glee that millions of tons of global-warming-contributing coal could be shipped out of a port adjacent to the Green Capital of the U.S. and maybe the world -- Portland, Oregon.
Cowlitz County in Washington state is across the Columbia River from Portland, Ore., which promotes mass transit and urban density and is a green reproach to the rest of us. Recently, Cowlitz did something that might make Portland wonder whether shrinking its carbon footprint matters.
I wonder why conservatives take such delight in destroying the planet? The fundies are all convinced that the end is coming anyway so why fight it? Doesn't matter to them if it's flood or fire. But George Will isn't in this Know Nothing camp. He's smarter than that. While he will no longer be with us when Washington Post columnists commute by gondola, one wonders why he doesn't care for the future of his family or your family or my family.

George Will makes his living by being the conservative curmudgeon in the bow tie. He's also a language scold and a know-it-all baseball fan. That's his platform and to turn Green (or even hint at it) at this late date will cost him.

He provides several quotes from James Fallows' recent cover story about coal in The Atlantic. In "Dirty Coal, Clean Future," Fallows makes the case that we can only get out of this hydrocarbon dilemma by trusting in China's new technologies to burn coal cleaner. The only way out is through. I just read the synopsis, but it seems as if Fallows would give a green light to the shipping of coal from Washington state. And the more we can ship, the better.

I'll read the article and respond. Meanwhile, here's a few parting words from George Will:
If the future belongs to electric cars, those in China may run on energy stored beneath Wyoming and Montana. 
And so run the hopes of the Govs of Wyoming and Montana. 

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