Arrow-right Camera
The Spokesman-Review Newspaper

The Spokesman-Review Newspaper The Spokesman-Review

Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
Cloudy 24° Cloudy

Endorsements and editorials are made solely by the ownership of this newspaper. As is the case at most newspapers across the nation, The Spokesman-Review newsroom and its editors are not a part of this endorsement process. (Learn more.)

Opinion >  Editorial

Coal trains draw climate debate

The debate about moving fossil fuels over rails is being held in communities because the greater discussion about climate change solutions has been derailed.

Politicians who normally prefer local control are opposed to it on this issue. This isn’t a Spokane issue or an Olympia issue, they say, it’s a federal issue. However, they don’t really push for action there either. Activists are frustrated with the lackluster response on the national and international scene, so they push for it locally. Hence, the large turnout at Thursday’s hearing in Spokane on the Millennium Bulk Terminals proposal.

Meanwhile, we need to keep the lights on with energy sources that contribute to global warming. The world will continue to burn gas and coal as it searches for and develops cleaner sources. We prefer that markets decide this issue, but energy markets don’t account for the external costs of a warming planet. A carbon tax would do this, and there will be an initiative on the Washington state ballot to impose one. Win or lose, pricing carbon across the board, not just in this state, must occur or the markets will remain skewed toward fossil fuels.

The state has taken action to phase out coal by shutting down Centralia’s TransAlta power plant by 2025. Now the issue is what to do with coal shipped from the Powder River Basin of Montana and Wyoming through Sandpoint, Spokane and other towns en route to the proposed coal export site near Longview.

Millennium Bulk Terminals would be the largest such facility in North America, and it’s the last plan standing after others fell by the wayside in recent years. Early this month, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers turned down a proposed coal-export facility north of Bellingham, citing tribal treaty fishing rights. The flagging economics of coal hasn’t helped.

The Millennium plan is to eventually ship 44 million tons of coal annually to Asian markets, such as Japan and South Korea. Japan is an ironic destination, because it had centered its future energy needs on nuclear power. Now it will increase its carbon footprint, because of the Fukushima meltdown.

If Millennium is approved, it would would mean 16 more coal trains – eight filled, eight empty – a day through Spokane. That’s on top of the eight trips that would occur if the Tesoro-Savage oil terminal proposal in Vancouver is approved. In January, the Spokane Valley City Council sent a letter of concern to the regulators weighing the oil terminal proposal, saying the increased rail traffic at its five at-grade crossings would be a problem. Millennium would double that increase.

On the other hand, those Asian countries will get the coal they need to power their countries, and Washington’s economy and state budget would get a boost from these projects. Unions support the terminal proposal, because of the jobs created. As it stands now, so do we.

The economics of coal may decide the Millennium issue. About 50 coal companies have gone bankrupt in recent years, largely due to lagging demand in China. That includes Arch Coal, which was once a principal partner in the Millennium project.

On Thursday, it announced it is selling its remaining stake.

The Spokesman-Review Newspaper

Local journalism is essential.

Give directly to The Spokesman-Review's Northwest Passages community forums series -- which helps to offset the costs of several reporter and editor positions at the newspaper -- by using the easy options below. Gifts processed in this system are not tax deductible, but are predominately used to help meet the local financial requirements needed to receive national matching-grant funds.

Active Person

Subscribe now to get breaking news alerts in your email inbox

Get breaking news delivered to your inbox as it happens.