For the past several years, coal industry officials have been attempting to secure approval to ship coal from Pacific Northwest ports to expanding markets in Asia. This would entail approval
to increase rail shipments from the Powder River Basin in Wyoming and Montana to new or greatly expanded terminals in Washington and Oregon. Industry officials state that this would bring thousands of living wage jobs to the region, giving a shot in the arm to an area of the country where the industrial and manufacturing base has lagged for many years, and where the unemployment rate consistently ranks above the national average.
These new terminals are opposed by a wide swath of environmental groups who have made the coal train cause the modern day equivalent of the Spotted Owl fight that decimated the natural resources industries in Oregon in the 90s. This comparison is appropriate, because the fight against coal trains, if successful, will deny economic opportunity to thousands of Pacific Northwest families, and is equally based in faulty or misleading science.
The Powder River Basin (PRB) is the largest coal mining area in the United States. PRB coal is noted for its low sulfur and ash content, meaning that it burns much cleaner than Appalachian coal. The basin also contains major deposits of petroleum, methane and uranium – in other words, it’s one of those naturally occuring areas of economic potential, like the Bakken Formation, that make other countries jealous of us. Around 50% of domestic electricity production comes from coal, and 40% of that is powered by PRB coal. In addition to firing our domestic production, as developing economies in Asia grow, they are looking for affordable options for powering their electrical grids. The price per kilowatt hour to produce electricity from coal is a fraction of the cost of most other sources (excluding natural gas), making it an attractive choice for emerging economies.
So if it’s a cleaner burning coal and it lowers costs for consumers, why would environmentalists oppose it?
The short answer is that they’ve waged a war on coal, and they want to kill the industry altogether.
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