A new plan for export of U.S. coal through a Canadian port is arousing some opposition north of the border.
According to reports in Canadian news media, Fraser Surrey Docks has proposed installation of coal-handling facilities that would allow them to unload one train per day of coal from Montana and Wyoming mines. The coal would be loaded onto barges and shipped to Texada Island, where it could be loaded on oceangoing vessels for export to Asia.
The train would get to Surrey via BNSF Railway Co.’s line that goes through Bellingham, Ferndale and Blaine.
By way of comparison, the proposed Gateway Pacific Terminal project at Cherry Point in Whatcom County would handle as many as nine trainloads per day, with eight of those trains likely carrying coal.
According to the news reports, Fraser Surrey Docks has suffered a decline in business since the start of the economic slump, and its owners are hunting for new cargoes.
Here is the home page for Fraser Surrey Docks. Here is a page on the docks’ website giving links to all the facts and figures about what they are proposing.
Fraser Surrey Docks has scheduled community meetings on their plans for 5:30 p.m. today (Thursday, May 23) and 1 p.m. Saturday, May 25 at the Sheraton Hotel Guildford at 15269 104th Ave., Surrey.
In an unusual move, Mayor Kelli Linville has endorsed the candidacy of Pinky Vargas for the Fourth Ward City Council seat in the 2013 election.
Vargas is seeking the seat being vacated by Stan Snapp. The other announced candidate in that race is Clayton Petree.
Vargas announced the Linville endorsement in a press release.
“I am proud to endorse Pinky Vargas for the open City Council position in Ward Four,” Linville said in the press release. ” Pinky has the demonstrated ability to work with business owners to help them save energy with an attentive eye to their bottom line. We need more of that perspective building consensus and spurring action on City Council.”
I was trying to think of other examples of a sitting mayor endorsing City Council candidates in Bellingham. Searching my mental files and Herald archives, I could not come up with any. If you have examples, please note them in the comments section.
Snapp has already endorsed Vargas. She also has endorsements from council members Cathy Lehman and Gene Knutson and former Whatcom Democrats chair and 42nd Legislative District candidate Natalie McClendon.
Vargas said her campaign’s formal kickoff will be Tuesday, May 14 from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. at the SPARK Museum of Electrical Invention on Bay Street downtown. Everyone is invited.
Vargas is an efficiency outreach manager for Puget Sound Energy.
Additional information on Pinky Vargas and her campaign is available at www.votepinkyvargas, on Facebook, or by contacting the campaign directly at email@example.com or (360)224-4313
When the sequester crisis that Congress created began to disrupt air travel, Congress moved quickly to fix the problem. U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen, D-Everett, says he wishes his colleagues would show similar concern about disruptions facing kids, military personnel and elderly people from sequester cuts.
In remarks delivered on the floor of the House, Larsen called Congressional action to fix air traffic controller staffing “somewhere short of a profile in courage.”
“Sequestration is a little bit like the person who kicks a boulder, and then blames the boulder for his broken toe,” Larsen said. “Congress created this problem. We need to fix it.”
The Arctic Challenger, built and based in Bellingham, appears to have cleared a significant hurdle in getting ready for service when and if Shell Oil is ready to begin Arctic Ocean oil drilling in earnest.
KUOW, the NPR affliliate in Seattle, reports here that the crew from Superior Energy tested the Arctic Challenger’s oil well blowout containment dome in Samish Bay in March.
That would break the streak of bad news for Shell’s effort to mount a significant new Arctic oil-drilling operation. McClatchy News Service summarizes a federal report on Shell’s troubles here.
The new state budget proposed by the Republican-controlled Washington State Senate would eliminate funding for the Department of Ecology’s Bellingham field office. Lummi Nation has sent a letter to Senate leaders protesting the possible closure of that office.
The letter, signed by Lummi Natural Resources Director Merle Jefferson, says closure of the office “would have substantial negative impacts on the environment in Whatcom County.”
Jefferson’s letter states that the local office plays a vital role in many environmental issues that are vital to the tribe. Among those is the proposed Gateway Pacific Terminal project proposed for Whatcom County’s Cherry Point.
“This proposed project will have regional impacts — removing an office of one of the regulatory agencies from the location most affected by the proposed projects sends a message to the affected parties,” Jefferson’s letter states.
The Ecology field office also plays an important role in dealing with tribal concerns about water quality, water rights and crude oil spills, Jefferson’s letter states.
Department of Ecology officials have warned that even if the office in Fairhaven is shut down, they have a lease that runs to 2017 that would require them to pay another $1.2 million between now and then even if they move out. Ecology also estimates moving expenses of $100,000, and monthly travel costs to this area from Bellevue headquarters that would exceed the current cost of operating the office.
I’ll be working on this story today, contacting local legislators for their views. I’ve also asked Mayor Kelli Linville and the Port of Bellingham’s Mike Stoner to weigh in.
Today’s story about greater-than-expected mercury levels turning up at a waterfront hot spot has generated a bit of interest on social media, and I thought this might be a good time to fire up the Herald’s trusty old wayback machine for some context.
But before we do that, I want to underline the fact that the cleanup I reported on today is just a small portion of the 237-acre waterfront site. Engineers say it amounts to two to four parking spaces. Port of Bellingham and Department of Ecology officials say this is a high-priority site where mercury contamination is concentrated. This is where mercury was handled and sometimes mishandled over several decades as a part of the pulp-bleaching process that helped turn trees into toilet paper.
Is the higher-than-expected level of mercury contamination on this little piece of ground a harbinger of more trouble to come? The state and port engineers say they don’t think so. Let’s hope they are right.
And let’s hope that the actual costs of cleanup don’t rise as fast as the estimates have risen since 2004.
Here are a couple of longer pieces I put together in the weeks leading up to the port’s decision to acquire the G-P property for cleanup and redevelopment.
First, let’s go back to November 2004 for this report on pulp and paper mill cleanup sites elsewhere in the country. Among other things, my sources here were telling me that the Georgia-Pacific contamination situation, while serious, is far from the most-contaminated site of its kind in the country.
Here is some info on a couple of really bad ones mentioned in that story: LCP Chemicals in Georgia and Honeywell at Lake Onondaga, N.Y. At both places, mercury was used for chlorine production, as it was here.
Here’s a December 2004 story in which sources talk about the pros and cons of capping contaminants in place, which is what the port and the Department of Ecology are going to wind up doing on large portions of the waterfront.
At the time these stories were written, cleanup costs were believed to be in the range of about $40 million, based on studies that had been done up to that point. AIG, an insurance company that had not yet become famous in 2004, agreed to insure the port for overruns.
Here is a December 2012 report in which Port Environmental Director Mike Stoner says the insurance policy and state ModeL Toxics Control Act grants are expected to cover the current estimated costs of $102 million.
Here is a more recent story that resulted from the April 11 Bellingham Planning Commission session, in which Stoner and Ecology’s Mark Adams said the final cleanup strategy will make the area safe for human use and keep contaminants from getting into the environment.
From Ecology’s website, here is a timeline for waterfront cleanup, not all of which is related to G-P.
Final site cleanup plans are still in the works, and the cost estimates in those plans may (probably will?) be overtaken by the reality in the ground as actual work takes place over the next few years.
Chinese demand for Powder River Basin coal has been the motivator for the Gateway Pacific Terminal proposal and other Northwest coal export plans, but recent reports indicate that Chinese demand may be waning.
Here’s one such report from Platts. It is especially interesting because the report is based on analysis from Goldman Sachs, the financial firm that owns a big share of Carrix, parent firm of SSA Marine of Seattle, which hopes to build Gateway Pacific at Whatcom County’s Cherry Point.
(Hat tip to Terry Wechsler for calling attention to this one via Facebook)
Reports about declining Chinese coal demand have been widely circulated in recent days among Gateway Pacific opponents. Is SSA Marine ignorant of these reports? I doubt it. Are they too stubborn to admit there is no economic rationale for their project? I doubt that too.
Even if the regulatory approval process goes smoothly for Gateway Pacific — and there is not much evidence that it will –it would be years before the terminal could ship its first lump of coal.
I don’t pretend to know much, but I do know this: Nobody knows much about the market for any commodity four or five years from now. Experts can study data and make projections and estimates, but those estimates could be way off.
A few years ago I attended an energy issues seminar for journalists, in Washington D.C. The Department of Energy’s analysts assured us that the price of crude oil, then in the midst of a worrisome spike, would recede and stabilize at around $55 for several years. This was the expert consensus. It turned out to be laughably wrong.
Carrix and BNSF Railway Co. are big outfits with plenty of money. They have no problem spending millions on a multi-year permit process in the hope of having permits in hand when and if there is a market opportunity for coal, or something else, in four to six years. If they do get their permits (and I’m not saying they will) they won’t build the thing if there is no market for it to serve.
Here’s a local example: In the wake of the 2000-2001 West Coast electric power crisis, BP Cherry Point announced plans for a 720-megawatt natural gas-fired generating plant to provide a secure power source for the refinery and a sizeable amount of surplus power that could be sold in a then-lucrative wholesale market. The price tag was announced at $500 million–in the same league as Gateway Pacific.
After three and a half years of regulatory scrutiny, the plant got final approval in late 2004. The start of contruction was postponed. The projected size of the plant was scaled back a bit. Then BP dropped the plans completely. Market conditions had changed.
During the same time period when the BP power plant was in the works, there was a lot of talk about building terminals to import natural gas. At that same energy conference in DC, the experts earnestly assured us that LNG importing was going to be the next big thing. We even got a tour of an existing import terminal in Maryland. They poured some LNG into a thing like a garbage can lid and set it on fire to show us it would not blow up. (We all knew that under the right conditions, it WOULD blow up, and HAD blown up, but we let the corporate communications folks have their fun.)
Today, energy and shipping companies are busy prospecting for places to build LNG export facilities.
The market changed.
Meanwhile, coal giant Peabody Energy predicts the market for coal will improve as natural gas prices rise.
CSX railroad expects domestic coal shipments to stabilize at a lower level soon, because all the power companies that could switch to cheaper natural gas have pretty much done so.
Port of Bellingham Commissioner Scott Walker announced Tuesday, April 16 that he will step down at the end of his term this year, ending a 22-year run on the port commission.
Walker made the announcement at the start of the port commission’s regular meeting. He said he simply wants more time to relax.
He is retired from a position as manager of government and community affairs at the BP Cherry Point refinery.
Perhaps the biggest event during Walker’s tenure was the transfer of the Georgia-Pacific Corp. waterfront industrial land to the port in 2005. The port and city now appear to be making progress on redevelopment plans for the area.
In 2012, Walker’s role in the ouster of former port executive director Charlie Sheldon angered many. Walker’s initial demands for Sheldon’s resignation were outvoted by fellow commissioners Mike McAuley and Jim Jorgensen, but by April 2012, Jorgensen swung around to Walker’s position and Sheldon was out, despite pleas from McAuley, commercial fishermen, port tenants and others in the community who supported Sheldon.
Walker’s departure offers an open seat for the position in the fall 2013 elections, and that could attract some interesting candidates.
The county-wide port district operates the Bellingham airport, shipping terminal, Alaska ferry terminal, marinas in Blaine and Bellingham, and commercial and industrial real estate holdings. Pay is $700 per month plus $104 per meeting, not to exceed $18,384 per year.
The regulatory agencies joining forces on the environmental study of the Gateway Pacific Terminal coal export pier have issued a report summarizing the comments received on the scope of that study.
UPDATE: The comments from federal and state agencies may be of special interest. With few exceptions, those agencies join environmentalists in calling for a sweeping scope of study for this terminal. Those comments begin on p. 81.
The Washington Department of Commerce is the only such agency aligning itself firmly with Gateway Pacific’s backers on climate change issues. The Commerce comment letter asks that regulatory agencies not establish “new precedents under state law that would unduly burden a wide variety of future projects,” and not allow this and other projects “to serve as proxies for bigger debates such as how best to reduce global reliance on fossil fuels.”
Commerce also wants the environmental impact statement to do a thorough job of adding up the economic benefits from the project.
But Commerce also calls for a wide-ranging review of possible negative impacts on property values near the rails, the economic impact of rail crossing delays “for the Puget Sound region and beyond.”
Commerce also suggests that public costs to improve those rail crossings should be subtracted from additions to public revenue.
Commerce’s Jan. 22, 2013 letter is signed by Rogers Weed, the executive director appointed by former Gov. Chris Gregoire. Brian Bonlender, Gov. Inslee’s former chief of staff in Congress was appointed by Inslee to replace Weed. Bonlender took over Commerce’s top post on Feb. 1.
The Washington Department of Agriculture, whose leaders had expressed some enthusiasm for Gateway Pacific as a possible export outlet for wheat, expresses misgivings in a comment letter. Agriculture’s letter calls for an analysis of the project’s impacts on rail traffic throughout the state, especially as increased demands on rail capacity might affect the availability of rail for crops that are already reliant on access to a share of that capacity.
Agriculture officials also want study of possible disruption of rail links to existing agricultural ports, and how changes in air and water quality could affect agriculture.
The document made public April 1, 2013 is a summary of comments, not the key decision on what the scope of the environmental impact statement for Gateway Pacific will be. The summary says that decision will be made “in the near future.” I have asked for (but will not necessarily get) some specific information on what “near” means in this context.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Washington Department of Ecology, and Whatcom County Planning Department are pooling their resources to develop a single environmental impact statement to analyze how SSA Marine’s proposed Cherry Point terminal will affect the environment, and what steps would need to be taken to compensate for (mitigate) any negative effects.
Opponents of the terminal have argued that the environmental impact statement must study global and regional impacts, not just local ones. Global impacts would include climate change and its associated ills (rising sea level, ocean acidification) from the burning of exported coal in China. Gov. Jay Inslee recently joined Oregon Gov. Jon Kitzhaber in calling for such a review by the federal government.
Regional impacts would include the possible disruptions from increased rail traffic from Cherry Point to the mines in the Powder River basin of Wyoming and Montana. The terminal would attract an estimated nine loaded trains per day–trains that would pass through Bellingham and Ferndale on their way to Cherry Point. They would return empty along the same route.
During recent hearings on Bellingham waterfront development, many commenters expressed fears that waterfront revitalization efforts would be hamstrung by the railroad tracks that slice through the old Georgia-Pacific Corp. mill site.
But the business interests and labor unions backing Gateway Pacific have argued that an environmental impact statement that is too broad and comprehensive would be unfair, setting a precedent that could harm other proposals. They characterize a review of global impacts as “bureaucracy.”
If you’ve been paying attention, you know that trainloads of coal are already passing through Whatcom County on the way to export terminals in Canada. Environmental groups are now reporting that coal is falling off these trains into the water elsewhere along their route.
In this report from KOMO, divers for Puget Soundkeeper Alliance say they are finding coal in the water along the rail route at Seattle’s Ballard Locks.
In this report from KGW in Portland, Columbia Riverkeeper reports similar findings in and around the Columbia Gorge.
In my occasional walks along the South Bay Trail to Boulevard Park, I have been checking for traces of coal as I cross the BNSF Railway Co. tracks. So far I haven’t noticed anything.
I have recently heard reports of coal being found around the tracks along the north end of the bay, where the prevailing southerly winds would blow across the cars.
Until the 1950s, Bellingham had its very own coal mine. I suppose it is possible that coal spilled from that era is still visible in places along the tracks. I don’t pretend to know.
If you have found any, feel free to post a comment or drop me a line: firstname.lastname@example.org.
The environmentalists, who are giving the fight against Gateway Pacific Terminal and other projects their maximum effort, are warning that the coal problems can be expected to get worse if GPT and other proposed northwest coal ports are allowed.
The Bellingham Planning Commission started its second comment session on waterfront redevelopment plans at 7 p.m. Thursday, March 28, and by 8:15, everyone who wanted to talk had been to the microphone.
The last planning commission meeting a week ago was marked by the alliance between unions and environmentalists, endorsing each others’ issues: living-wage jobs on a working waterfront, pristine environmental cleanup and plenty of public access.
At this week’s meeting, there were renewed calls for living-wage jobs and thorough cleanup, along with other concerns.
There was also a hint of a conflict between jobs and public access.
Several commenters noted that earlier versions of waterfront plans had called for a pedestrian and bike path at the water’s edge all along the old pulp mill site southwest of downtown. But the current plan envisions a possible interruption in that path near the Port of Bellingham shipping terminal, if the path would interfere with job-creating industrial uses.
Bellingham resident Mitch Friedman, a longtime environmental activist, said he hoped planners would figure out how to deliver the promised water’s edge access while still creating plenty of good jobs.
Commercial fisherman Jim Kyle said he hoped the commitment to a working waterfront was for the long term, and that the port and the city won’t succumb to the temptation to convert marine industrial land to luxury developments if the real estate market swings skyward again.
“Bellingham is not Marina del Rey, where everything is beautiful and nothing happens. Tell them (developers) Bellingham is a working town, not a bedroom town,” Kyle said.
Kayak builder George Dyson expressed exasperation that current plans have no provision for a dock that would enable recreational boaters to tie up and walk downtown, and no plan to use water transportation to get people around the waterfront.
He also called on port and city to develop alternative plans.
“There is no plan B if developers don’t show up,” Dyson said. “What then?”
Commercial fisherman Robin Dexter said the current plan looked to him like “Bellwether on steroids,” a reference to the Port of Bellingham’s hotel, shop and office development near Squalicum Harbor.
“I don’t want Bellwether,” Dexter said. “No one here wants Bellwether. We want another Bellingham neighborhood.”
Planning Commission Chairman Tom Grinstad said the record will stay open for written comments for at least two more weeks.
Send written comments to: email@example.com
Get caught up on proposed waterfront plans here, on the city website.
I’ll be working on an expanded report for Friday’s website, as well as for the Saturday print edition.
Backers of the Gateway Pacific Terminal project and other proposed Northwest coal export facilities have been quick to react after the governors of Washington and Oregon asked federal regulators to consider greenhouse gas emissions and other global impacts as those projects get review.
The governors, Jay Inslee of Washington and Jon Kitzhaber of Oregon, sent this letter to the President’s Council on Environmental Quality Thursday, March 25, asking that council to give broad scrutiny to the projects.
“We believe the decisions to continue and expand coal leasing from federal lands and authorize the export of that coal are likely to lead to long-term investments in coal generation in Asia, with air quality and climate impacts in the United States that dwarf those of almost any other action the federal government could take in the foreseeable future,” the governors’ letter states.
But business, union and agriculture leaders making up the Alliance for Northwest Jobs and Exports have expressed opposition to the governors’ stance. They argue that the “expanded regulation” the governors want would set a precedent that would affect other projects and cause economic harm.
The argument seems to be that the economic benefits of exporting U.S. coal as a cheap power source for China and other Asian countries outweigh any potential negative impacts to global climate or human health. If that is the argument, why not subject that argument to both economic and environmental scrutiny before permits are granted?
Some coal export backers (such as Brian Schweitzer, former Montana governor) have argued that the Northwest terminals won’t have any measurable impact on coal burning in China: Denied U.S. coal, the Chinese will get and burn the same amount of coal from other sources. ( Read Schweitzer’s arguments here.)
If that argument has merit, advocates of coal exports should be able to offer evidence for it during the environmental impact statement process — if these broader questions are included in the scope of that process.
That is why the upcoming decisions on scope-of-study are crucial. Will local, state and federal regulators take on these global questions, as Inslee and Kitzhaber and thousands of local residents prefer? Or will they decide that the law requires them to stick closer to Whatcom County and its environs, focusing on Cherry Point eelgrass beds, ship and rail traffic, etc.? We shall see.
Here is the full text of the rebuttal to Inslee and Kitzhaber from the Alliance For Northwest Jobs and Exports:
SEATTLE, Wash. – Labor and business leaders responded forcefully to the call from Governors of Oregon and Washington for expanded federal review in the approval of coal export projects in the Northwest. They reiterated strong support for the proposed bulk export terminals and expressed concern over the precedent that expanded regulation would have on future exports from the Northwest.
The governors wrote a joint letter to the Council for Environmental Quality (CEQ) urging that it undertake a thorough review of greenhouse gas emissions and other air quality impacts prior to any final decisions on coal export projects. Three proposed projects are currently undergoing rigorous government environmental impact assessments in the Northwest. If approved, these port projects would expand trade and exports to Asia and the rest of the world, contributing to the regional economy in addition to creating thousands of good family-wage jobs at these facilities.
“Just last week the U.S. Senate voted to oppose any new requirement or regulation that federal agencies account for greenhouse gas emissions in their analyses under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). Such a requirement could be particularly damaging to the Northwest, where trade and exports are so vital to the local economy,” said Lauri Hennessey, spokeswoman for the trade advocacy group the Alliance for Northwest Jobs & Exports, which represents nearly 400,000 workers and 46,000 businesses.
“We have always been and remain committed to making these projects a reality,” said Mike Elliott, Spokesman for the Washington State Legislative Board of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (BLET). “We will continue working with the Oregon and Washington Governors towards the best outcome for these multi-commodity facilities.”
“This is déjà vu all over again,” said John Stuhlmiller, CEO of the Washington Farm Bureau. “We saw this kind of intervention when the CEQ stepped in 20 years ago on the issue of federal timber harvests in the Northwest. It didn’t work then, and it won’t work now. Tying GHG emissions to export projects is a bad idea and an ineffective policy for addressing the Governor’s climate policy objectives. It sets a precedent that could be used to slow or stop exports of agriculture and other bulk commodities – hurting our trade economy.”
“Existing federal law requires exhaustive environmental review of development projects to ensure that our environment is protected,” said Don Brunell, president of the Association of Washington Business. “In addition, Washington has some of the most stringent environmental standards in the nation and every project must meet or exceed those standards in order to go forward. Imposing additional, unwarranted and unnecessary regulatory burdens in an attempt to derail a particular project would set a dangerous precedent that will jeopardize our state’s economic future,” Brunell added. “We continue to support a balanced approach that ensures both environmental protection and economic opportunity.”
“Virtually every product we export, from cars to turbines to planes to grains, has an environmental impact,” said Ross Eisenberg , vice president of energy and resources policy for the National Association of Manufacturers. “The already-too-long permitting process for new projects–a process that takes on average 3.4 years–would become completely unmanageable if the law were expanded to require the type of review the two governors are now seeking.”
Trade and exports have played a central role in the Washington and Oregon economies for decades. One in four jobs in the region is tied to the trade industry, which annually produces hundreds of millions in tax revenues. Economic studies show the private investment proposed for five new bulk export terminals would create thousands of new jobs and generate millions in additional tax revenue for schools and other services in Washington and Oregon.
“We disagree with this approach and believe current regulations ensure rigorous environmental review of each individual project. We will continue our efforts to make the case to Governors Inslee and Kitzhaber, as well as others, that these terminal projects are good for our region and can be done right,” said Hennessey.
(End press release)
By John Stark
Thursday’s Bellingham Planning Commission hearing on waterfront planning proposals attracted a well-organized showing from environmentalists and organized labor. But instead of butting heads–as they have been doing over the Gateway Pacific Terminal coal export facility proposal–they made an obvious effort to support each others’ concerns.
Representatives from Re Sources for Sustainable Communities stressed the importance of living-wage jobs as well as stringent environmental cleanup. Labor leaders said they shared environmental concerns.
Re Sources Executive Director Crina Hoyer told the commission she supports labor’s concerns about creation of family-wage jobs.
Mark Lowry, president of the Northwest Washington Central Labor Council, said union workers want good jobs on a clean waterfront.
“We support our friends in the environmental community and we trust them to look out for our interests,” Lowry said. “We want to be able to bring our kids down there and let them play around in the grass.”
City Council chambers appeared to be a bit more than half-full, with about 80 people in attendance. After two hours, everyone who wished to do so had taken a turn at the microphone.
I’ll have an expanded report online later Friday, as well as in the Saturday print edition.
The Planning Commission will hold another public hearing on waterfront plans next Thursday, March 28, also at 7 p.m. in City Council chambers at City Hall, 210 Lottie St.
Here’s a link to background documents on the joint city/Port of Bellingham plan for redevelopment of 237 waterfront acres, including the former site of Georgia Pacific Corp.’s pulp, chemical and paper operations.
After the seven-member advisory planning commission completes its hearing process, it will make a recommendation to City Council, which is certain to hold its own hearings on waterfront issues. Port of Bellingham commissioners will also need to sign off on waterfront plans before they become final.
By John Stark
It was only two percent. It was only $15 a week for someone who makes $40,000 a year. The federal payroll tax hike that kicked in at the start of 2013 was no big deal, according to government economists and media pundits.
But now, evidence to the contrary is trickling in.
Last week, Bloomberg News provided leaked emails from Walmart executives, expressing dismay at company-wide February sales figures. Now, the experts are revising their expectations about what may be in store for the economy. Here, Bloomberg provides additional analysis, noting that higher gasoline prices are hitting household budgets at the same time.
I suspect that the $15-a-week tax hike probably would not be a big deal, were it not for the fact that it comes on top of a lengthening list of higher costs for many people who make less than the median income. Gasoline is among the most obvious, since we see the painful prices displayed at every gas station. But it’s just the beginning.
Raise your hand if your medical coverage premiums went up at the beginning of the year.
Higher fuel prices plus drought are also helping to push food prices up.
In Bellingham, water and sewer bills took a big jump this year, and I doubt that this city is unique in that respect. Across the country, municipal utility systems need more money to expand to serve population growth, while also repairing and replacing pipes and pumps installed a generation or two ago.
State and local taxes are also rising in many places, wherever political forces will permit it.
College tuition continues its dizzying climb.
What am I missing?
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.