The following editorial appeared in The Columbian, Vancouver, Washington:
As local residents this week celebrated the expected demise of an oil terminal proposal for the Port of Vancouver, a significant monkey wrench was tossed into the works of a proposed coal terminal in Longview.
The messages are clear: Vast fossil-fuel operations do not meet our state’s environmental standards and are not desired by residents. In other words, they do not match our vision for the future of our communities. Washington is ready to lead the way in welcoming and developing new energy technology and in protecting our air and water.
Clark County voters recently elected anti-terminal candidate Don Orange to the Port of Vancouver Board of Commissioners, expressing a desire to scuttle a misguided oil-terminal proposal. When Orange takes office in January, it is expected that he will join Commissioner Eric LaBrant in voting to terminate the port’s lease with oil companies to build and operate a rail-to-marine transfer terminal.
Kudos are warranted for voters who recognized that the plan is a poor fit for Clark County. They also are warranted for Commissioner Brian Wolfe, who has opted to respect the will of the voters and not extend the lease before leaving office and being succeeded by Orange.
Meanwhile, the denial of two permits has hampered a proposal to build a coal dock at the Port of Longview. The $680 million project would export an estimated 44 million tons of coal annually, increasing U.S. coal exports by 40 percent.
In denying the permits, a Cowlitz County hearing examiner said the company was unable to compensate for 10 adverse impacts identified in the state’s Environmental Impact Statement. Millennium officials say they will appeal the decision, which marks the third and fourth permits that have been denied.
The proposals at both the Port of Vancouver and the Port of Longview have triggered questions about the need to balance industrial development with environmental concerns. The Longview plan also touches upon the Trump administration’s erroneous insistence that environmental regulations are killing the nation’s coal industry.
Earlier this year, U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry commissioned a report from energy expert Alison Silverstein to detail the deleterious impact of regulations on energy production. As Forbes reports, “The Staff Report Silverstein authored finds that regulation is not among the greatest contributing factors to the closure of coal and nuclear power plants.”
Therein lies the truth about America’s coal industry: The accessibility and low cost of natural gas – along with consumers’ desire for clean-energy alternatives – has done more to deplete coal production than have federal regulations. Between 2008 and 2016, the percentage of U.S. energy coming from coal fell from 51 percent to 31 percent.
Part of the reason for that is the well-documented impact of coal upon carbon emissions and, therefore, climate change. Americans are turning their backs on an outdated source of energy, and much of the world is following. Supporting a vast operation to export coal from Longview to developing nations would represent a moral and environmental failure.
Proponents of the fossil-fuel terminals in Vancouver and Longview insist that the resulting jobs would benefit the region. Undoubtedly, jobs and development are crucial to the future livability of Southwest Washington. But the region must be a leader in recognizing and embracing the future rather than clinging to old and harmful modes of energy.
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