Robert McClure's picture

Should Washington become the king of shipping coal to China?

Have you ever had to wait for a train at, say, Broad Street in Seattle, right by the SAM Sculpture Park? Or anyplace else along the Burlington Northern Santa Fe tracks that hug the coast of Puget Sound?

Imagine roughly doubling the train traffic on that railroad. Imagine further that each of these new trains is a mile and a half long. That’s a lot of waiting at railroad crossings.

But critics of the Gateway Pacific Terminal – the proposed coal-exporting port near Bellingham that would service those very long trains full of coal  – say that’s only the first of many impacts on communities and the environment because of the terminal’s overall purpose: sending up to 48 million tons of coal to China every year.

Topping the list of environmental impacts is climate change. The Chinese would burn a *lot* of coal, the most climate-unfriendly of the major energy sources. Plus there are the greenhouse gases emitted bringing the coal here from the Power River Basin in Montana and Wyoming.  And – oh, yeah –air pollution created in China can find its way to our shores in just a week and a half.

On the other hand, you may have noticed that financially, many of our neighbors are hurting. The proposed coal-exporting terminal west of Ferndale would mean hundreds of jobs – those “family-wage” jobs that are increasingly hard to find in Western Washington.  The naturally deep port at Cherry Point would not need to be dredged, proponents of the terminal point out. And the Powder River coal is low-sulfur, meaning it creates less lung-attacking pollution when burned than the higher-sulfur coal the Chinese might obtain from elsewhere.


Bill Gates: Boost federal funds for energy research to fight climate change

There’s an urgent need – recognized by leaders of such venerable corporate giants as Xerox, GE and Lockheed Martin – for the American government to inject a lot of cash in a big hurry into alternative energy research, Microsoft founder Bill Gates told 1,200 climate activists and business people in Seattle on Tuesday.

To head off climate catastrophe, “the innovation piece is so important,” Gates said at a fundraising breakfast for the Seattle-based non-profit Climate Solutions. “The lip service that has been paid to energy innovation over the last few decades is disappointing.”

Gates and others from the upper echelons of the corporate world banded together as the American Energy Innovation Council and pushed hard for a boost in federal energy research spending from $5 billion to $16 billion annually.

“President Obama did see us. He said nice things, and I think he meant them,” Gates joked during an on-stage interview by Jabe Blumenthal, a former Microsoft executive who is co-president of Climate Solutions.

Nevertheless, the CEOs’ bid ultimately was shot down. Gates said that at a less dire time financially, it’s likely the group would have succeeded, and that the executives must keep trying.

Gates advocated research into many different energy sources, including nuclear, solar and wind power, that do not produce the gases scientists say are unnaturally heating the earth’s atmosphere, chiefly carbon dioxide. Many research projects won’t get very far but lots of them should be tried, said Gates, who is known widely for his philanthropy as well as his success at Redmond-based Microsoft.


Industry lobbyists torpedoed Copenhagen climate pact, eight-nation investigation by journalists shows

Following yesterday's news that there will be no global climate pact when international negotiators meet next month in Copenhagen, the Europeans today are saying it's all President Obama's fault.

But from where we sit -- and let's recall that Dateline Earth was a little grouchy at Obama early in his term about his less-than-laser focus on climate -- there's plenty of blame to go around.

Exhibit No. 1: The excellent report out today from the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists outlining how industry lobbyists in eight pivotal countries torpedoed hopes for a climate treaty.

We heard about this from our friends at the Center for Public Integrity, which ran the effort to investigate the lobbying blitz.

Navajo leader backs banning environmentalists from reservation; native journo questions MSM coverage

The last time I saw Marley Shebala, she was at the airport. She couldn't get her ATM card to work. She was facing a series of flights home to Arizona. And she was nearly cashless after a week at a journalism seminar. It was the week I was losing my job at the P-I, and I was about to go on unemployment. But I gave her $20 anyway. She'd been so cool to have as a partner in learning at the New York Times Institute on the Environment.

[caption id="attachment_5311" align="alignright" width="73" caption="Marley Shebala"]Marley Shebala[/caption]

I've run into Marley over the years at a number of journalism events and had come to understand that I could always look forward to provocative questions and exciting comments  from her. She's a pistol of a reporter for the Navajo Times and, as High Country News put it, an "undaunted muckraker."

So I was really glad to see her comment in a piece the other day by The Daily Yonder on Navajo Nation President Joe Shirley, Jr.'s support for the Hopi Tribal Council’s recent unanimous decision to ban environmentalist groups from their reservation in Arizona.

The tribal leaders, you see, are angry about the greens' efforts to shut down the the Navajo Generation Station, a coal-fired power plant near Page, Arizona.

EPA will go after climate change polluters through Clean Air Act


[caption id="attachment_4612" align="alignleft" width="100" caption="EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson"]EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson[/caption]

In an effort to goose Congress into moving on climate-change legislation, the Obama administration this afternoon announced it would use the Clean Air Act to crack down on coal-fired power plants, refineries and other big producers of greenhouse gases.

I just got off a telepresser with U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Adminstrator Lisa Jackson. She repeatedly emphasized that President Obama sees this as part and parcel of his plan to rescue the economy with a green-jobs program:

We will not have a solution that doesn' to work for the economy.

She held the press conference after making a speech in Los Angeles, citing California's green-energy jobs:

Gov. Schwarzenegger just said the clean energy econony has grown at 10 times the rate of other jobs (in California.) This state is actually an example of what innovation in the clean energy economy can bring. ... We believe this will actually be a jobs revolution.

The idea of using the Clean Air Act to require greenhouse gas polluters to use the "best available control technology" is far from new. The Bush administration lost a court case that set this all up, but Obama's held back on pushing forward for several reasons.

One is that the Clean Air Act really wasn't designed to deal with greenhouse gases. Jackson put on her game face today and said the moves the agency is proposing are just like all the other times it has used the Clean Air Act to regulate pollutants.

But she also repeatedly said she and the president want Congress to act.

Global warming? Ha -- throw another lump of coal on the barbie, Australians say

Americans make up 5 percent of the world's population, and with that we manage to crank out 25 percent of the greenhouse gases that have us hurtling toward climate catastrophe.

[caption id="attachment_2708" align="alignleft" width="300" caption="Gnu free documentation license"]Gnu free documentation license[/caption]


So, we're the worst offenders, you'd think. But no. That would be Australia, where the per capita greenhouse gas production rates are even higher than here in the U-S of A.

Writing for The Wall Street Journal from Canberra, Rachel Pannett offers an interesting look at what she bills as a possible preview of what's to happen here on the Waxman-Markey Cap'n Trade bill.

The report from Down Under definitely inspires a sense of deja vu:

Like the U.S.

Saskatchewan favors Obama's emissions plan

Saskatchewan would rather adopt the U.S. carbon emission reduction plan than cap-and-trade systems proposed by Canada because it would be easier on the coal industry in the province, reports Brian Laghi of The Globe and Mail. Saskatchewan is the second largest producer of greenhouse gases in Canada, largely due to burning of coal to generate electricity for mining and refining deep oil reserves. The province worries Canada's strict requirements on capping carbon emissions would cripple its economy. The U.S. plan would reduce carbon emissions on each barrel of oil produced, increasing overall production and allowing continued growth of oil sands production. Whatever plan Canada adopts, Saskatchewan would like to see modifications targeted to specific industries.

– Emily Linroth

Faked letters to Congress on behalf of coal industry show twists of modern news media

The case of the coal industry's faked letters to members of Congress from  "constituents" is providing an interesting look at the modern news media as it changes.

Sure, The Washington Post, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and other behemoths had their own stories when news broke that a lobbying firm working for a group called the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity had hired a subcontractor that sent the bogus letters.

But nearly a week later, who's really following the scandal? It's getting legs in large part because so-called "new" media such as Talking Points Memo and are bearing down on the story.

Kate Sheppard at Grist even found a new angle merely by looking in her news organization's past files (once known as a "morgue," which never made it sound enticing to dead-tree journos.) She offers today:

Grist contributor Sue Sturgis of the Institute for Southern Studies reported in May 2008 that a representative for ACCCE, then known as Americans for Balanced Energy Choices (ABEC), was caught misrepresenting the group in a phone call that aimed to drum up opposition to the Lieberman-Warner Climate Security Act.