Cherry Point coal terminal is “dead,” former Montana governor says–but Wyoming company signs deal to use it
By John Stark
Brian Schweitzer, a Democrat who recently stepped down after two terms as Montana governor, scoffs at the idea that Northwest coal export terminals will be a boon to coal production in his state.
“I think Cherry Point is dead,” Schweitzer said in one portion of a lengthy interview with SNL, an online energy news service.
(Cloud Peak Energy of Gillette, Wyo. apparently thinks otherwise. The company has just completed an agreement to ship up to 16 million tons of coal a year out of SSA Marine’s proposed Gateway Pacific Terminal at Cherry Point, when and if it is built. Communitywise Bellingham provides the full text of the announcement via BusinessWire, and notes that this and an earlier deal with Peabody Coal is evidence that Gateway Pacific could operate at or near maximum capacity if it can run the regulatory obstacle course and begin operations.)
But here’s more from Schweitzer, who is an enthusiastic booster of his state’s coal industry:
“Ten years from now, maybe there will be some export capacity on the West Coast, but for right now, what we have is completely full and what has been proposed is probably dead — and not even dead in the water, just dead,” Schweitzer told SNL.
During a phone interview with me on Wednesday, Feb. 13, Schweitzer said he bases those sweeping statements on the level of public opposition to the coal export proposals at Cherry Point and elsewhere.
“There’s so much resistance to the project in the community,” Schweitzer said. “Unless that local resistance changes, coal is not going to be shipped at Cherry Point.”
One symptom of that was the unprecedented avalanche of 120,000 public comments during the preliminary “scoping” phase of the environmental impact study process, although that figure includes some comments supportive of the project.
SSA Marine spokesmen have cited their in-house polling data indicating a majority of people in the state and Whatcom County are supportive of the project for its jobs and tax revenue, but opponents contend those results lack credibility.
While Schweitzer believes that the environmental opponents of the project are going to get their way, he thinks their opposition is misguided.
Schweitzer says he accepts the science of climate change caused by fossil-fuel burning, and he said he shares environmentalists’ concerns about it. He also said he has personally observed climate change’s effect on Montana’s glaciers and forests.
But as he sees it, the availability of U.S. coal will not affect how much coal is actually burned in China and other Asian countries.
“Those coal-fired plants have been built in Asia,” Schweitzer said. “They will run for 30 to 50 years until they are obsolete, or wear out. For 30 to 50 years it is already baked in … It’s nice that y9u care about climate change but it’s not going to change how much carbon dioxide goes into the atmosphere.”
Some of the coal that will be burned in place of Montana coal will have a higher mercury content and a lower heat content per ton of carbon dioxide, he said.
He mocked environmentalists who, in his view, have an absurd expectation about how Asian nations will react to the defeat of Gateway Pacific.
“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,” Schweitzer said.
Meanwhile, on Feb. 13, Sightline Institute released a study challenging the financial credibility of Australian-based Ambre Energy, the company promoting coal export terminals on the Columbia River. The study contends that Ambre doesn’t have the financial resources to pull off these ambitious projects.
In this report in the Longview Daily News, Ambre Energy officials rejected the Sightline report’s conclusions.