ThinkProgress, December 19, 2012
By Jules Boykoff
In the Pacific Northwest, activists and their allies are ramping up for a full-throttle battle over a proposal to haul coal across the west for export to China. Big Coal’s latest master plan promises to generate a second epicenter of climate-change resistance—our very own Keystone XL pipeline showdown.
With coal prices plummeting, thanks in large part to the spike in natural gas use, coal barons are desperate to offload their lucre. Showing ever-greater verve, they’re dumping it in overseas markets, especially China. The US Energy Information Administration projects US coal exports will hit an all-time high in 2012—some 125 to 133 million tons—more than doubling 2009 export levels and surpassing a record set in 1981.
When it comes to climate disruption, these are ghastly numbers. After all, 2012 looks like it’ll be the hottest year on record for the contiguous US. The year brought devastating drought and catastrophic storms. While we can’t peg any single weather event to climate change, this is precisely the sort of climate seesaw scientists have predicted. Meanwhile, the Arctic suffered record losses in sea ice and snow cover. And globally, 2012 is on course to become the ninth hottest year ever. Revving up coal consumption—the dirtiest of fossil fuels—is not going to help matters, to say the least.
That’s where the Pacific Northwest enters the picture. This month the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) staged what may well be the only public meetings on the permitting process for the US coal industry’s hail-Mary moment: to convert the western United States into a railroad and barge pipeline for coal mined in Montana and Wyoming and hauled along the Columbia River to the Pacific Ocean for export to China and elsewhere.