Portland Coal exports represent a benefit for the Oregon Economy and the Environment
Earlier in May some environmentalists celebrated Kinder Morgan’s decision against pursuing creation of an export terminal from a Columbia River port near Clatskanie.
The export terminal would largely ship coal, and because of that, Brett VandenHeuvel, executive director of Columbia Riverkeepers, was quoted as saying the Kinder Morgan decision “is a huge victory for the state of Oregon.”
As a resident of Oregon for more than 3½ decades and longtime member of several environmental organizations, I respectfully disagree with this statement.
First, the Kinder Morgan decision represents the loss of jobs and economic development, in a portion of the state that has suffered greatly from the loss of timber industry and other natural resource industry based jobs. Second, the statement does a disservice to the broader aims of the environmental movement.
I am certain that the railroad employees who operate the trains that bring products to port would not see this as a victory for Oregon. Coal is one of many bulk commodities railroads and their employees successfully transport through the area, including logs, soda ash, grain, potash and oil. Governor Kitzhaber has noted that the Oregon economy is dependent on its ports and that exports are one of the keys to reducing unemployment and boosting our economy. Developing this port would have reduced unemployment and boosted the economy, the same way coal export terminals in other parts of the country have increased opportunities for skilled trade workers.
The effort by the environmental movement to kill the export of low sulfur American coal to Asia from the PNW ignores certain facts about the air pollution in China. Six million tons of coal are used in China per day – much of this coal is produced from very small mines where there is no sorting, cleaning or washing, and it is high in sulfur. China is increasing its electric generating capacity at the rate of about 80 gigawatts per year and experts agree coal will continue to be the primary player in their energy grid.
One of the primary goals of the environmental movement is to reduce pollution levels. The proposed Northwestern export terminals would ship low-sulfur Powder River Basin coal, which provides a much more environmentally friendly alternative to the high sulfur coal Chinese power generation currently relies upon.
Denying the Chinese access to this resource is not Green, because it forces them to continue using the higher sulfur alternative.
Coal opponents have also turned to demonizing trains as part of their campaign against these proposed terminals. They cite the diesel these trains use, ignoring the fact that trains are the most fuel-efficient mode of ground transportation. Every train effectively removes hundreds of diesel-burning trucks from the road.
Many would consider it ridiculous to protest the increased use of trucks on our roads. The same attitude should pertain to protesting increased train use, which actually is an overall environmental benefit, as well as a sign of a growing economy.
I am proud to be an Oregonian, proud to work for the railroad, and proud to support a cleaner environment for our children. For all of these reasons, I am supportive of the proposed export terminals in the region, and believe they represent a net benefit for both Oregon and the planet. I would ask those opposed to them to consider the bigger picture.
Jim Dayton is a Locomotive Engineer and Union Representative for the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers & Trainmen‐Teamsters who has lived in the Portland area since 1977. He represents Locomotive Engineers in the Northwest on the Union Pacific Railroad and operating employees on the Portland & Western/Willamette & Pacific Railroads. He is a member of the environmental groups World Wildlife Fund, Environment Oregon and National Wildlife Federation.