Posts Tagged ‘coal’

May01

The Pteropod in the Coal Mind

By Bob Ferris
 
The below video link from a Seattle Times article is important.pteropod-limacina-helicina_med
 
Now you might not have heard of pteropods before, but you have certainly heard of the relationship between canaries and coal miners. Pteropods are the canaries of our Cascadian oceans.  They are sensitive to acid because of their thin shells and they are telling us that we need to end or seriously curtail smokestack and tail pipe emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2), nitrogen (NOx) and sulfur (SOx) because this is affecting the bottom of a food chain that ultimately includes us.  
 
If you or someone you know has trouble grasping the concept of climate change or our peril from accelerating carbon and other emissions from this push to make the Pacific Northwest the carbon (i.e., coal, tar sand, oil shale, LNG and wood) export capital of North America, please introduce them to the graceful and transparent pteropods who are dissolving and dying to send us a message.

 

Apr23

Interior Department: The Need for a Gumption Pill

By Bob Ferris
 
gump•tion  [guhmp-shuhn]  noun Informal.
1. initiative; aggressiveness; resourcefulness: With his gumption he'll make a success of himself.
2. courage; spunk; guts: It takes gumption to quit a high-paying job.
3. common sense; shrewdness. 
From Dictionary.com 
 
There are times when I fantasize about products that I would like to see.  One of those products that is high on my list right now would be gumption pills.  For if this product existed I would send cases of !cid_0BAFA484-1336-41EC-865D-6D83DF8F3EE6these pills directly to 1849 C Street, N.W., Washington, DC 20240.
 
"The U.S. Department of the Interior protects America’s natural resources and heritage, honors our cultures and tribal communities, and supplies the energy to power our future." From US Department of Interior website.
 
What is there?  This is the address of the US Department of Interior whose mission is stated above.  And they could surely use this attribute of gumption at this point.  
 
Why would I say this?  Well let’s start with the fact that the Department in the form of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) just let an abusive and cantankerous cowboy parley his family’s $10 investment in 1948 in 160 acres of desert land with some water rights into a standoff of monumental proportion and consequence.  
 
Had this agency been taking gumption pills, they would have solved this situation two decades ago rather than letting it linger and fester.  As it was they had to be dragged kicking and screaming towards resolution by lawsuits and then they dropped the situation like a super-heated spud ending with a greater mess than when they started.   In the absence of gumption the squeaky wheeled bullies prevailed, the cattle are still there, and the American public lost on so many levels.  
 
020213Minam_odfw-1But this is not the only symptom that might be treated by the gumption pills.  We also have the recent proposal to delist the gray wolves in most of the lower 48 states.  Here again the Interior Department agency involved—the US Fish and Wildlife Service—listened to noisy bullies in the form of state wildlife agencies and anti-wolf trophy hunters and came up with a “plan” that was universally criticized by the scientific peer-review team and by conservationists around the globe.  
 
Then there is Powder River Basin coal.  I get the “supplies energy to power our future” part of Interior’s mission but how in any rational system of thought is selling coal to foreign companies and global corporations at prices that make it profitable for them to ship it 7000 miles to China an element of powering our future?  The same goes for fracking and LNG export, particularly when it should be balanced with the “protect America’s natural resources” aspect of their mission.  
 
And what is true for cattle grazing, wolves, coal and natural gas is also true for trees and forests.  The BLM has control of more than two and half million acres of federal forest lands in western Oregon.  Here the chainsaws of the forest industry seem to be heard better by BLM than those in Oregon or coming to Oregon to work in industries that are actually growing rather than shrinking in terms of economic contributions.  Here again BLM is faced with the choice of listening to the noisy few or the quiet many who come and stay in Oregon because of the natural amenities not because of clearcuts, landslides, or their love of jake-braking logging trucks.  
 
Unfortunately I could go on and on here, but the catalyst for this rambling rant is that suction dredge miners in Idaho are notifying the BLM that they are planning a protest to be staged on BLM lands and mendoAu ripping up bankperpetrated in the waters of the iconic Salmon River.  The suction dredgers plan, as I understand it, is to assemble themselves and their suction dredges on the banks of the Salmon and then run those machines in the river in protest of their recent legislative failure to get the US EPA banned from Idaho.  The legislation failed because it was judged unconstitutional so the suction dredgers—who frequently and passionately invoke the US Constitution as well as the 1872 Mining Law—are basically protesting the Supremacy Clause of the US Constitution which is exactly what they invoke when they say that that state or local efforts to exclude suction are trumped by the 1872 Mining Law, which incidentally, does not mention suction dredging anywhere in that 1872 act.  
 
Robin Boyce, acting manager for the Cottonwood Field Office, said the BLM is working on a response to the event planned on the Salmon River in central Idaho near Riggins around the Fourth of July, the Lewiston Tribune (http://bit.ly/QCPIVP) reported Tuesday.
 
"We are still trying to figure out how this would work and when and if it is possible on BLM property," Boyce said.  From the Idaho Statesman April 22, 2014
 
In any case, the BLM response to this above was gumption-less.  It was a “we have to talk to our parents” sort of response.  Had they had their gumption pills the response could have been something along these lines: We will not grant you permission to use the federal lands under our care to break federal pollution laws.  Or simply: Hell no.  The latter would be so refreshing.
 
Cascadia Wildlands and other similar organizations regularly sue the Interior Department agencies.  We do so not because we like to but when the Department—in its many guises—lacks the gumption to enforce their own laws or regulations.  We do so not in a casual and reflexive manner but after long discussions and many notices to the agencies involved.  And when in the end they fail to act as the laws and regulation proscribe, we in essence become the “gumption pills” they need.  
 
I would love for the US Department of Interior to suddenly develop gumption and bring constructive resolve to all of the above issues from the Bundy fiasco to the weak wolf plan and from energy to the suction dredger lawlessness.  I am ready and willing to be surprised by agencies following the law and maybe even doing a little bit more.  But I am also prepared—along with my colleagues and partners who represent the un-listened to public and the speechless critters and ecosystems—to be the gumption that this is lacking in this important federal department.
 

Nov28

The Angry Ocean Calls

Gleneden BeachBy Bob Ferris
 
Acidic and angry, the ocean—
father and mother of us all—
Storms past amputee sea stars
And oysters with half shells
Bent not on revenge but  
inevitable correction.  
 
But our commercial tendrils 
Continue to flail unaware
And careless
Whipping wildly cross the globe.
While the waves build
And peril accumulates.  
 
The bell in the boat shed
Rings and rings again
In emergency tones
But we are deafened 
Made so purposely  
By those whose ears
Hear but one note
Played by a golden whistle.
 
And leadership?
We certainly have those
Who claim that mantle
But bray about progress
And great voyages 
Yet have never raised anchor
From a dark and destructive past.
 
Those in their idle and mired boats
Are cheered by those created 
Expressly by their negligence.
Like cave fish they have
Lost their vision and
Discernment from disuse.  
But the wave still comes
Whether seen or not.
 
So we are left to sink 
or swim.  
Unled and ill-served
Until we realize the wisdom 
Of the bristlecone, clams and Greenland shark.
We need to manage and serve ourselves 
And think in centuries not seconds
Systems and not status
And lead our lives and loves accordingly.
 
Bandon, Oregon November 2013
 
Happy Thanksgiving everyone!  Please take a moment to rest up, because we certainly have some work (and fun) ahead of us on forests, wolves, and the wild places we all love and need!
 
Bob Ferris

Nov07

Bullwinkle and Mr. Peabody

By Bob FerrisA_bull_moose_animal_mammal

I found out the other day that there is a movie coming out in 2014 called Mr. Peabody & Sherman.  This is a 3-D update on the characters that many of us were introduced to on the Rocky and Bullwinkle Show so many years ago or more recently through re-runs.

“Experts who have studied the Northwestern moose — Alces alces andersoni — believe they are witnessing one of the most precipitous nonhunting declines of a major species in the modern era, yet few outside Minnesota fully appreciate the loss.” In Scientific American 

In that weird world of cranial synapses, the link to Bullwinkle made me think about the current plight of wild moose in North America as reported in the New York Times and elsewhere.  It seems that researchers looking at the precipitous decline in these largest members of the deer family in the lower 48 states and southern Canada are linking that decline to increased parasites made more possible by climate change.  More specifically, they are linking the disappearance of the killing cold spells that used to limit the populations of parasitic worms, ticks and other deleterious organisms.  

“Sometimes, Rines says, anemic, infested animals are transformed into "ghost moose."

That happens when the moose "have scratched all winter long trying to get the ticks off, and they break their hair all off, and because the hair follicle is broken you see the white inner portion," she says. "And they literally look like ghosts." NPR piece on moose in New Hampshire  

Of course there are those who question or deny that climate change is at play or that it even exists.  These are also the folks who might quickly look to blame this decline on wolves, but the fly-in-the-ointment here is that a good portion of these declines are taking place in the absence of wolves.  Oops.

Coming back to Mr. Peabody and our entry point above, we start to think about Peabody Energy and more specifically coal (cue John Prine).  Because when we think about the causes of our current climate crisis and the threats of continued atmospheric loading of greenhouse gases, few companies compare to Peabody in terms of their profiting from coal and externalizing the full costs of their operations on their fellow citizens, our oceans and the wildlife—like moose—that we all feel are precious.  

Critics of full-scale and cumulative Environmental Impact Studies for potential coal export terminals in Cascadia like the proposals in Longview, Washington and for Cherry Point near Bellingham, WA, squawk about the depth of the requested analyses.  My sense is that their brains—unlike mine—would not immediately jump to the conclusion that we need to include the impacts on moose and other wildlife of shipping this coal in a generally Boris and Natasha direction.  But then they might not have had their thought processes forever altered and enhanced by Rocky, Bullwinkle, and the whole crew.  Perhaps when you once visited a world where flounders can send fan mail and squirrels fly though the air like rockets, your ability to see and make complex and important connections improves.  

Apr05

Putting the Cap on Coal Trains?

 

By Camilla Mortensen Eugene Weekly
April 4, 2013
 
Bad news for coal is good news for clean energy advocates and conservationists: Not only has the Port of Coos Bay’s exclusive negotiating agreement with the last of the companies trying to export coal ended, a Eugene attorney has also filed a notice of intent to sue coal companies and the Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) Railway for violating the Clean Water Act by emitting coal into waterways in Washington. 
 
While the Coos Bay coal proposal that would have sent coal trains through Eugene seems to be dead in the water, the Northwest still faces four more coal export proposals. And Bob Ferris of Cascadia Wildlands, one of the local groups that fought the Coos Bay proposal, says, “Another set of partners might come in or some worse proposal, we have to be constantly vigilant.”
 
Charlie Tebbutt, who filed the intent to sue on behalf of the Sierra Club, Columbia Riverkeeper and three other groups, says that “fundamentally, every rail shipment through the state of Washington and throughout the country discharges coal in significant amounts, and it has to stop.” He adds, “It’s a clear violation of the Clean Water Act and pollutes rivers and streams.” 
 
The conservation groups say that “by BNSF’s own figures, the four daily coal trains traveling through Washington heading to Canada or to the state’s last remaining coal plant combine to lose a staggering 120 tons of coal dust per day.” And they add that the soft, crumbly Powder River Basin coal from Montana and Wyoming contains “mercury, arsenic, uranium and hundreds of other heavy metal toxins harmful to fish and human health.”
 
Laura Hennessey of the Alliance for Northwest Jobs and Exports sent out a press release in response to the suit, calling it a “nuisance” and citing a BNSF statement saying it “is committed to preventing coal dust from escaping while in transit.” 
 
Tebbutt says that railroads have pointed the finger at the coal companies and vice-versa, and “it is up to the industry to figure out the problem.” He says that not only do the coal dust, lumps of coal and petcoke come off the tops of the largely uncovered train cars, it also drips with moisture off the bottom of the cars.
 
BNSF has estimated about 500 pounds of coal blow off a single open car, according to the notice of intent to sue the railroad and the coal companies. Tebbutt says that under the Clean Water Act, each rail car is a point source of pollution and “each discharge from each car to each waterway constitutes a separate violation.” The intent to sue says at the end of the 60-day period the groups will file a citizen suit “for the applicable statutory maximum for each violation, presently $37,500 per day for each violation.” 
 
Tebbutt is not new to coal pollution suits; along with Megan Anderson of the Western Environmental Law Center, he represented the Sierra Club and reached a multimillion-dollar landmark settlement with a coal mine and power plant in New Mexico. The suit sought to stop ground and surface water contamination from toxic coal ash and called for spending about $8 million on restoring the watershed and controlling pollution.
 
Tebbutt says, “The trains have been discharging for years, and state and federal agencies have ignored the problem so citizens are taking action to stop it.”
 

Apr02

Port of Coos Bay coal-export proposal ends after 18 months of work

By Scott Learn, The Oregonian 

April 1, 2013
 
Another Northwest coal export project has dropped off the boards.
 
The Port of Coos Bay said today that it has ended its exclusive negotiating agreement with Metro Ports of California, which had been exploring a coal export terminal in Coos Bay.
 
The project was one of five under consideration in Oregon and Washington. It was also the only one likely to bring mile-plus coal trains through southeast Portland, Milwaukie, Salem and Eugene.
 
The deadline for Metro Ports exclusive option ended on Sunday, after 1 1/2 years of work and several extensions. Earlier this year, two other players in the deal dropped out: Mitsui and Korean Electric Power Corporation.
 
The Port announced late today that it had ended the agreement. A Metro Ports spokeswoman said the company had no comment.
 
In a port press release, CEO David Koch said the port would continue to pursue development that focused on the coastal harbor's "unique characteristics," including developable land, a short distance to Pacific trade routes and experienced maritime labor.
 
The port may still pursue coal export, said David Petrie, founder of Coos Waterkeeper, which opposed the deal. But expensive rail improvements needed to accommodate coal trains make the prospects "highly unlikely," Petrie said.
 
It's the second coal export project to fall by the wayside. Last year, RailAmerica abandoned plans to construct a coal storage and export facility at the Port of Grays Harbor.
 
Developers looking to ship Montana and Wyoming coal to Asia have applied for permits for export terminals in Boardman, Longview, Wash., and near Bellingham, Wash.
 
Terminal developer Kinder Morgan has not decided whether to apply for permits for a terminal at Port Westward, on the Columbia River near Clatskanie.
 
The Coos Bay project would have shipped up to 11 million tons of coal a year to Asia. The project would have brought $250 million in investment, $182 million in upgrades to the Coos Bay Rail Link from Eugene and 165 permanent jobs.
 
Port staff will begin internal discussions of "a broad range of marine cargo opportunities," the port's release said, and may ask the port commission later this year to solicit proposals.
 

Mar14

Coal Train Slowing at Port?

Eugene Weekly by Camilla Mortensen March 14, 2013 

The recent announcement that two foreign investors have pulled out of the International Port of Coos Bay’s coal export proposal doesn’t mean the coal train plans have been entirely derailed. The announcement leads to even more questions, says Bob Ferris, executive director of Cascadia Wildlands, one of several Lane County groups working to stop the fossil fuel exports. 
 
Objections to the coal trains range from concern over the dust dispersed along the routes as well as the larger issue of feeding global warming-inducing coal plants overseas. “The best use for the deepwater port at the Port of Coos Bay is to export locally produced Oregon goods such as farming produce and timber products,” Lisa Arkin of Beyond Toxics says. She says it is “nefarious” as well as “unsustainable and truly harmful” to mine coal in Montana and haul it through dozens of communities, the Columbia River Gorge, the Willamette Valley and “much of Oregon’s fragile coastline.”
 
According to documents posted on the port’s website in response to a public records request by Oregon Public Broadcasting, both Mitsui, a Japanese company incorporated in New York, and Korean Electric Power Corp. have terminated their agreements with the port. A third investor, Metro Ports out of California, has until March 31 to make a decision, the documents say. 
 
“It seems that Mitsui found that coal exports at Coos Bay doesn’t pencil out economically,” Laura Stevens of the Sierra Club says. “We already know it doesn’t pencil out for our health, environment and local communities all along the rail line.”
 
Ferris says while the Korean power company and Mitsui have not given any reasons for “bailing” on the coal export plan, he suspects it has to do with coal exports being politically unpopular and that the plan will result in legal challenges. 
 
He also says the only reason it has been economically worthwhile for Asia to import coal from 7,000 miles away is because it’s being sold so cheaply. “A buck a ton, you can’t even buy dirt for a buck a ton,” Ferris says.
 
Ferris explains that under the first Bush administration the Powder River Basin was “decertified.” So even though it produces 40 percent of U.S. coal, it’s not considered a coal-producing region and it’s not subject to the same rules and environmental regulations. As a result, the coal is sold for much less. 
 
But Ferris says with Sen. Ron Wyden calling for an examination of the possible millions in royalties lost from the mining of coal on public lands due to out-of-date regulations, he thinks “those two companies saw the writing on the wall.” He also points out that in February Mitsui agreed to pay $90 million for alleged violations of the Clean Water Act in the Deepwater Horizon disaster.
 
Ferris says if the Coos Bay coal proposal to export Powder River Basin coal went through, it would export 10 million tons of coal a year and be giving away something like $50 million in subsidies and natural resources to two foreign companies and competing economies, “which doesn’t make sense.”
 
In addition to Coos Bay, Oregon faces two other coal export proposals in Morrow and St. Helens. Oregon will decide whether it will approve the Morrow Pacific coal project on April 1. For more info go to http://wkly.ws/1fu
 
At 5:30 pm March 14 No Coal Eugene, Oregonians for Black Mesa and other groups will celebrate the investors pulling out of the Coos Bay project upstairs at the Growers Market at 454 Willamette St.
 

Feb28

Extractive Industries are Killing the Planet–Eugene Rally March 3rd

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: February 27, 2013

Extractive Industries are Killing the Planet
 
Eugene, Ore.—March 3 at 1 p.m. A rally will be held in the University of Oregon EMU amphitheater proceeded by a march against the fossil fuel industry. The march is follow-up to the “End All Extraction” march on February 17, since the demands from the first march were not met.
 
The event is to coincide with the end of the Public Interest Environmental Law Conference (PIELC), which begins on February 28. Hundreds will gather and march against governments and businesses that support fossil fuels and other extractive industries.
 
“The people need to hold corporate extractors accountable since government has not,” said Jim Flynn of the Cascadia Forest Defenders, sponsors of the march.
The rally is in solidarity with local and national groups such as Idle No More, Tar Sands Blockade, and No Coal Exportation.
 
These movements include thousands of environmental and social justice activists from many varied groups such as non-governmental organizations (NGOs), first nations, minority justice groups, small businesses, labor unions and concerned citizens of all varying political backgrounds.
 
This event features a large collaboration of national and local organizations and people coming together to stand up and say “no” to tar sands extraction, “no” to the Keystone XL pipeline, “no” to coal extraction and exportation, while simultaneously saying “yes” to equality for all life, “yes” to challenging governments and businesses for sustained forms of energy and, “yes” to clean air, water and land/space for future generations to live.
 
The event will kick off with a rally that will include speeches by Tar Sands Blockade spokesperson *Ramsey Sprague*; executive director of the Civil Liberties Defense Center *Lauren Regan*; and *Sam Kopf* of the Cascadia Forest Defenders.
 
The Erb Memorial Union (EMU) amphitheater is located on the northwest side of the EMU at the University of Oregon.
 
For more information on the groups we are in solidarity with, please visit these websites:
 

Oct31

Comments on Coyote Island Terminal Permit

Cascadia Wildlands submitted the following comments on the Coyote Island Terminal Permit Application (Port of Morrow):

Click below to view the PDF file.  

CascWild – Comment on APP0049123 Coyote Island Terminal Permit Application

Oct22

The High Cost of Delaying Needed Reforms: The Wedge Pack and Coal

By Bob Ferris

Thirty years ago or so FRAM oil filters used to run TV commercials featuring a mechanic named Jerry and a tag line: You can pay me now or you can pay me later.  The take away message being that it cost a lot less to take proactive or preventative measures than to fix the consequences of that neglect later.  This commercial was on my mind this weekend as I thought about two issues of importance to Cascadia Wildlands: the Wedge Pack tragedy and the Coos Bay Coal Terminal.  What?

 
 
While the Wedge Pack issue is certainly about wolves, it is likely more about management priorities for public lands and the total societal costs of public lands ranching.  This latter element is a story of the continued expectations of the privileged and their allies to receive massive taxpayer subsidies in an economy that has the rest of us struggling for a scrap of the much promoted and rarely achieved American dream.  How much in subsidies?  A ten year old estimate on the cost to tax payers of public lands ranching put the total costs somewhere in the $500 million $1 billion range per year—from a full-cost accounting perspective.  
 
This subsidy along with associated monies to USDA Wildlife Services to control predators on public lands so that cattle largely fattened at tax payer expense could also be protected from animals that are owned and enjoyed by the public, has been fought by a myriad of groups and campaigns for my entire 30 year career in conservation and beyond.  Push back for grazing fee reform has come from obvious sources such as the various cattleman’s associations as well as unexpected groups like bankers in the Southwest concerned that any changes in public lands grazing would impact the long-term value of public lands leases and therefore the strength of their extensive loan collateral from ranchers.  
 
The most recent push for reform came in 2011 and was denied not because it was felt that ranchers were paying what they should but rather that the federal government lacked adequate resources to deal with the issue.   In other words, they felt it made more sense to keep paying for the engine overhauls because they did not have the money to pay for the oil filter.  
 
This false economy and illogic is particularly galling when we see statements in the paper from Len McIrvin of the Diamond M ranch talking about “his” ranch—which is actually in large part “our” ranch (i.e., public lands).  If he is so bothered by our wolves on our public lands perhaps he should be asked to seek other pastures in the future.  He strikes me as a lot like someone who has lived a long time in a rent controlled apartment and is complaining to the landlord that he does not have a trash compactor or free-cable.  Where is the gratitude and cooperative attitude that should be the natural result of the below-cost grazing he and his family have enjoyed for years?  Amazing.
 
And then there is Powder River Basin coal.  Here the maintenance neglect can be thought of as a forgotten faucet that was once turned on to water a garden and was never turned off.  A little over 20 years ago during Poppa Bush’s administration low BTU coal from the Powder River Basin (PRB) was the coal that no one wanted.  Low in energy and far away from everything the coal sat in the ground.  So Bush’s administration de-certified the area as a coal production region thus removing many environmental and fiscal constraints.  Now 41% of our nation’s coal comes from the PRB.  And still the faucet is left full open.
 
What does that mean?  It means that we are selling leases to coal companies—many of them foreign—for prices as low as twenty-five cents a ton for a product that in the last year has sold for anywhere from $80-$120 per ton.  Guesses at actual market value are closer to $5 per ton.  That means the proposed Coos Bay coal terminal at capacity (10 million tons per year) could be getting roughly $40 million annually in discounts.  So the Port of Coos Bay’s claim that the coal port will provide $24 million annually in economic activity seems fairly hollow when we realize that the American tax pay will be giving up $16 million dollars more in value to get that revenue.  No quite a great deal.  
 
As two of the beneficiaries of that “gift” are a Japanese and a Korean firms—the latter being controlled by the Korean government—we are not only needlessly draining away our national wealth but get the added “benefit” of enabling and enriching competing economies so they will be better able to displace manufacturing jobs here in the US.  And then there are climate change and ocean acidification implications of enabling anybody to continue on this energy pathway—another, more serious example of the danger and consequences of neglected change or modernization.  
 
My point here with both these examples is: We all need to be paying more attention and getting active, because the cost of our neglect and inattention are always way more expensive as time progresses.  Join us and get engaged—help us keep it wild.
 

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