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Wed, 2012-10-17 18:00Ben Jervey
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Northwest Tribes Speak Out Against Coal Export Terminals

A quick update on the coal train exports front (which I’m henceforth going to start calling the Asian Coal Express, unless anyone else has any better suggestions. Leave 'em in the comments!) 

The New York Times ran a must-read piece for anyone concerned about coal companies targeting American taxpayer-owned public lands, carting it by rail over to coastal ports throughout the Pacific Northwest, loading it onto barges and Panamax vessels, and then shipping it overseas to sell at a steep discount to Asian markets.

The article looks at the battle over the Northwest export terminals through the lens of the local American Indian tribes, who worry about the impacts on local fishing rights and the threats to sacred sites.

Thu, 2012-10-11 09:24Ben Jervey
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White House Holds Meeting to Address Coal Export Terminals

It was barely two weeks ago that we reported on the Army Corps of Engineers’ decision to “fast track” approval of the Morrow Pacific Project, a coal export terminal on the Columbia River that would move over 8 million tons of coal from rail to barge every year.

This Morrow Pacific Project is one of a handful of proposed export terminals that the industry hopes to build to help link coal from the strip mines of the Powder River Basin to overseas markets. As American demand for coal falls, companies (many foreign owned) are scrambling to access the growing Asian markets.

At issue with the export terminals is the process of review and approval, specifically with regard to the environmental impacts. As we wrote about the Morrow Pacific Project, the Army Corps has, at present, the final word in determining whether or not a terminal can be built. This is due primarily to the “dredge and fill” rules established in section 404 of the Clean Water Act, and the origin of Army Corps decisionmaking harkens all the way back to the Rivers and Harbons Appropriation Act of 1899.

Here’s the problem: in determining whether or not to approve a new facility such as a coal transfer terminal, the Army Corps is only compelled legally to look at the immediate environmental impacts at the site itself. These site-specific reviews wouldn’t take into account any broader of cumulative impacts, like, say, the impacts of coal dust along the route of the rail or barge traffic, nor the even broader and inevitable impacts of the coal’s combustion on mercury pollution and global climate disruption.

Mon, 2012-10-08 10:25Ben Jervey
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Oil On the Tracks: How Rail Is Quietly Picking Up the Pipelines' Slack

We’ve talked a lot here on DeSmogBlog about oil (and tar sands crude) pipelines. You know, like the Keystone XL, which TransCanada is currently ramming through Texas, using whatever means necessary (including violence), and Enbridge's Northern Gateway, which was just declared “dead” by one of Canada's top newspapers.

And we’ve talked quite a bit about coal trains. All for very good reason. But we haven’t ever delved into the growing trend of shipping oil by train. Trains are a crucial – and growing – part of oil industry infrastructure, so it’s worthwhile to take a step back and get some perspective on this remarkable system. Understanding oil trains will help you understand, for instance, why oil markets are paying little attention to the pipeline debates.

Let’s start with the raw numbers.

Every week, over 17,000 carloads of oil are shipped in the U.S. and Canada. With roughly 600 to 700 barrels of oil in each carload, that’s between 1.4 and 1.6 million barrels of oil on the U.S. and Canadian rails every day. And these numbers are growing fast. This chart says it all.

Sat, 2012-09-29 11:00Ben Jervey
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Congressional Report: Impacts of Climate Pollution "A Cocktail of Heat and Extreme Weather"

Ranking members of the House Committees on Natural Resources and on Energy and Climate released a joint report earlier this week that traces the imprints of climate change on recent extreme weather patterns.

With Going to Extremes: Climate Change and the Increasing Risk of Weather Disasters (pdf), Representatives Ed Markey (D-MA) and Henry Waxman (D-CA) continue to forge ahead in their roles as the most outspoken and honest members of the House when it comes to climate change. Unfortunately, they stand alone even in the critical committees on which they sit: the report includes a front page disclaimer that it “has not been officially adopted by the Committee on Natural Resources or the Committee on Energy and Commerce and may not necessarily reflect the views of its Members.” 

Going to Extremes opens with a quote by University of Arizona climatologist Dr. Jonathan Overpeck:

This is what global warming looks like at the regional or personal level. The extra heat increases the odds of worse heat waves, droughts, storms and wildfire. This is certainly what I and many other climate scientists have been warning about.”

It then proceeds to catalog the worst of the devastating weather trends of late, connecting the dots between these impacts and the greenhouse effect.

Fri, 2012-09-28 10:11Ben Jervey
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The Fossil 47 Percent: Freeloading Energy Companies That Pay No Income Taxes

Mitt Romney has nothing but disdain for fossil fuel companies. At least those freeloaders that are “dependent on government” and “pay no income taxes.” This is true if you believe Romney's very own words and some very circular logic. Follow along:

According to Romney, his “job is is not to worry about” those 47 percent of Americans that don’t pay income taxes.

And of course we know that, according to Romney, “corporations are people,” too. So reason dictates that if a corporation isn’t paying income taxes, it’s not Mitt Romney’s job to worry about them.

Someone tell that to the 33 energy companies in the S&P 500 that paid either paid no income taxes at all or actually received a tax return last year.

Thu, 2012-09-20 12:44Ben Jervey
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Army Corps Fast Tracks Port of Morrow Coal Export Terminal

The Army Corps of Engineers has decided that the transfer of coal from trains onto barges in Oregon’s Columbia River is not worthy of a full environmental impact study. For now.

At issue is the Morrow Pacific Project, a coal transfer facility that is a key pivot point in Ambre Energy’s plans to export American coal to Asia. We’ve covered this project before (here's all the background on the Morrow Pacific Project), as well as the broader strategy of coal companies to ship American coal – much coming from taxpayer-owned public lands – off to China and other overseas buyers.

Basically, Ambre Energy (an Australian coal and shale company) is planning on shipping coal by train from the strip mines in the Powder River Basin to this Morrow Pacific facility at the Port of Morrow in Boardman, Oregon. There the coal would be offloaded onto barges – at the rate of two per day at full capacity – which would then float down the Columbia River to Port Westward (roughly 30 miles north of Portland), where it would again be transferred onto massive Panamax vessels for shipment to Asia.

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