Climate and the coal trains

Government is a curious beast. For decades, the feds subsidized tobacco farmers while warning consumers that it would kill them. Coal is the energy analogue: The feds subsidize coal mining on public lands in Wyoming and Montana’s Powder River Basin (to the tune of $29 billion) while trumpeting the hazards of carbon pollution as the primary driver of climate change.

It’s comically tragic or tragically comic.

Consumers learned that tobacco was unhealthy, and domestic demand plummeted. For the past decade, the nation’s appetite for coal has dipped thanks to renewable energy, conservation and cleaner natural gas. Whither industry? No, no. Simply take what you have and market it overseas.

The separated-at-birth comparison ends there — energy is a necessity. National policy demands coherence, and President Barack Obama gave it a stab with his Tuesday speech addressing climate change.

“We don’t have time for a meeting of the flat-earth society,” Obama said. “Sticking your head in the sand might make you feel safer, but it won’t protect you from the coming storm.” It’s a fitting capsule on the debate to export PRB coal from terminals at Cherry Point near Bellingham and the Millennium Bulk facility at Longview. Supporters have their heads in the sand for not weighing the long-term health and climate fallout. Opponents are similarly naïve if they don’t address the demand for increased rail capacity, coal or no.

As The Herald’s Bill Sheets reports, the number of coal trains headed to British Columbia will continue to rise, although nowhere on the scale of the Gateway/Cherry Point proposal. Gateway spells 18 round trips per day, with an annual export volume of 48 million metric tons. It’s best not to picture the nearly 1,000 mega-cargo ships that will ferry the coal to Asia, or to imagine, “What if?”

On June 17, the Army Corps of Engineers announced that its environmental review would be limited. Social impacts, global warming, and coal dust are too wide-angle for a statutorily limited bureaucracy (Opponents should look on the Corps’ decision as a blessing. Most engineers aren’t exactly skilled at measuring social data.)

Obama’s climate-change speech threw light on an executive style that asks the larger questions. Regarding the proposed Keystone XL pipeline, the president underlined the need for no net increase in climate-change gases. “Allowing the Keystone pipeline to be built requires finding that doing so is in our national interest,” Obama said.

And so we have our index: Are Northwest coal-export facilities in the public interest? Tally up the costs, and the answer is no.

More in Opinion

Editorial cartoons for Tuesday, Nov. 21

A sketchy look at the day in politics.… Continue reading

Editorial: Give Everett residents say on council districts

A ballot proposal switching the city council to district representation requires a public process.

Robinson: In Alabama, is party more important than morality?

Voters will have to decide if Roy Moore’s alleged behavior is a greater sin than being a Democrat.

Harrop: If we’re retrying Bill Clinton, let’s stick to facts

The demand that any woman’s claim of rape be automatically believed can have tragic consequences.

Questions for Mill Creek city council after Kelly’s ouster

Mill Creek’s voters’ outrage was in full force when we voted for… Continue reading

Allow cannabis shops to hire guards

I saw the Nov. 16 Herald story about the pot shop being… Continue reading

Trump’s base will get worst of GOP tax reform

Not yet one year into his dictatorship, our phony in chief enjoys… Continue reading

Editorial cartoons for Monday, Nov. 20

A sketchy look at the day in politics.… Continue reading

Editorial: School funding half-full, half-empty, but not ample

The Supreme Court says the state’s school funding plan won’t meet its deadline. So there’s work to do.

Most Read