Posts Tagged ‘Powder River Basin’

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.
 

Oct09

10 Coal Questions for Port of Coos Bay

Ten Questions for Port of Coos Bay CEO David Koch—

Since I was unable to attend the City of Eugene’s working session, here are my top ten questions:
 
1- If your consultants used standard industry numbers how come your job numbers per million tons of coal exported are twice Cherry Point’s numbers which also included train and pilot jobs? 
 
2- The Port keeps mentioning covered facilities like they exist and are in common usage, can you give a couple of examples of existing covered export facilities that ship in excess of 5 million tons annually of thermal coal that have been tested and proven not to discharge coal dust to the air and water?
 
3- On a similar front you keep mentioning covered coal cars, can you give examples of where these are being used successfully with thermal coal and by what companies?  
 
4- The focus of much of your presentation is on job creation in Coos Bay, which is certainly important, but what about jobs that are projected to be lost via business isolation and lost development potential from mile and third long unit trains and by selling a discounted raw material to a competing economy that is rapidly displacing jobs in the US?
 
5- Since studies have shown that increases in freight rail traffic—most notably in Los Angeles—reduce the value of homes, how is the Port of Coos Bay going to properly compensate homeowners along the delivery route in Montana, Idaho, Washington, and Oregon?  
 
6- The Port keeps harping on the economic contribution of this facility, how in this economic equation does the Port account for needed rail infrastructure costs requiring massive public investments along the non-Coos Bay Rail portion of the 1200 mile plus delivery route?  
 
7- Also looking at the economic “benefits” you claim, where do you take into account reduced federal natural resource values attendant to Powder River Basin de-certification and the associated discounts of roughly $4 per ton ($40 million annually at 10 million tons) essentially given by the American taxpayers to the Korean, Japanese and US partners in this project?
 
8- The Port also touts the environmental records of the players involved, how does that reconcile with the fact that a division of Mitsui—one of the partners—was recently fined $90 million for their part in the Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico?
 
9- The Port also keeps emphasizing that while coal is not the most desirable cargo that this is seen essentially as a "stepping stone" for better and more sustainable options such as container terminals and value-added products, could you please provide examples of where this type of conversion from a bulk terminal has happened?  
 
10- When running at full capacity (10 million tons) the trains delivering the coal will emit an addition 1.5 tons of diesel particulates per mile of route, as diesel particulate emissions have been shown to increase the risk of respiratory, pulmonary, and cardiac diseases as well as cancer, how is the Port of Coos Bay going to address the health consequences for these people–especially the younger and older–along the more than 1200 mile delivery route in the US?
 
There are many more questions that need to be answered, but let’s start with these.
 
Ways to Get Involved:
 
 

 

Sep04

Coos Bay Coal Terminal–Look at the Jobs and Money Closely

There are things in life that make no sense when exposed to the light of day.  Many of these are offered by charlatans selling items like cattle magnets to improve gas mileage and some of them are foisted on the American public by the very “military-industrial complex” Dwight Eisenhower once warned us about.    Perfect examples of the latter are the proliferation of coal port proposals being jammed down our throats in the Pacific Northwest.  

These projects are generally sold on the two points of private investment and jobs.  Project proponents often intone: Private investments in the half-billion dollar range are so rare…we cannot afford to ignore this opportunity to put people back to work.  Anyone brave enough to ask questions about this equation are immediately branded job-killers and even communists by folks who buy into this hogwash.  
 
But what is really going on here?  To truly understand this dynamic you have to ask yourself why Asian countries like China and Korea want to by our low BTU, thermal coal regardless of the transport costs when there are much closer and higher BTU coal reserves in Asia and Malaysia?  The answer is simple: Our federal government is willing to sell our shared natural resources way too cheaply.
 
The “why “to this is complicated however.  Back in the early 1990s no one wanted to buy the low BTU coal from the federal lands in the Powder River Basin of Montana and Wyoming.  As a consequence, George H.W. Bush de-certified the Powder River Basin as a coal producing region.  This arcane procedure was designed to make it more attractive—from financial and environmental compliance perspectives—for coal companies to buy and mine coal in the region.  But what made sense more than twenty years ago to develop a market for PRB coal does not make sense today now that 41% of our domestic coal comes from the PRB.  
 
Now as world coal prices hover in the $110-$120/per ton range, this de-certification situation is leading to coal leases in the 25 cent to $1/ton range.  As citizens we hope that the federal government is doing all that they can to get fair market value for our shared natural resources—particularly when they are for export—but here they are likely missing the amount by more than $4/ton.  
 
Four dollars a ton does not sound like much until you look at projects such as the Coos Bay Coal port and apply this across 10 million tons a year.  Then it constitutes a $40 million annual gift from the American public to the coal industry and their partners.  Project proponents will argue that the subsidy makes perfect sense when you consider the jobs created.  Really?  
 
A casual look at the projected employment numbers for the Coos Bay Coal project indicates that when they are running at 10 million tons per year that the project will support 165 jobs and yield $24.2 million in pay.  If we accept those figures then we are giving up $40 million dollars in assets annually to create roughly half that number in yearly salaries.  But there are good reasons not to accept those figures.  
 
The Cherry Point Coal Terminal near Bellingham, Washington is projected to ship 54 million tons of materials including 48 million tons of coal and create 430 direct jobs.  That means that they will produce about 8 jobs for every million tons shipped.  In contrast, the Coos Bay proposal is projecting 165 jobs for 10 million tons or more than twice the direct jobs per million tons shipped.  Both projections were calculated using “industry standards” so why the 100% discrepancy?  Of interest also is that the Cherry Point projections are considered by many to be too high and include significant numbers of non-local jobs.
 
If you think it is hard to find the “good deal” in here for the American people of taking 40 million out of savings each year to provide half that much in salaries that “needle in the haystack” becomes even more elusive when it is realized that massive federal investments in rail infrastructure all along the delivery route are also required to accommodate these mile and third long, 17,500 ton trains.  This latter could mean hundreds of millions of dollars of increased tax payer debts.  The job news only gets worse when you consider that selling discounted raw materials to a competing economy only enables them to create more manufacturing jobs thus killing many more jobs in the US than this project will ever create.  And then you look at the potential jobs losses associated with the business isolation and the package becomes even more grim.
 
Project proponents will try to portray this project as a gold-coated winner for all concerned, but please look closely at the elements and understand that we are sacrificing our collective assets, incurring debt, and suffering impacts that are way, way out of scale of any benefits we receive.  This is another prime example of the few causing pain to the many to make themselves richer.  
 
Ways to Get Involved:
 
 
 

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