Pacific Export Terminals: The Raging Environmental War on Coal

Originally published in The Washington Times.clip_image002

Guest post by Steve Goreham

Exports from the Pacific Northwest are an ongoing battleground in the environmental war on coal. Last week, the Sierra Club and three other groups announced that they would file suit against Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway and six coal companies over shipments of coal in open-topped train cars. The announcement is an escalation in the three-year battle to stop new export terminals proposed for ports in Washington and Oregon. Underlying all the rhetoric is a concern that mankind is causing dangerous global warming.

In 2010, Peabody Energy, Cloud Peak Energy, and Australia-based Ambre Energy announced competing plans to build export terminals in the Pacific Northwest to ship coal to Asia, with Arch Coal joining the fray in 2011. Five new export terminals have been proposed. Coal would be shipped by rail from the Powder River Basin coal mines in Montana and Wyoming, loaded on ships at the proposed terminals, and transported across the Pacific Ocean to meet the growing demand for coal in China and Asia. Potential coal exports to Asia are estimated at between 50 and 100 million tons annually. Environmental groups and students have mounted a growing campaign to oppose construction of the terminals and the planned coal exports.

The Sierra Club and other opponents claim that rail transport of coal is responsible for “emitting coal into waterways in many locations across Washington” in the form of coal dust and that this violates the Clean Water Act. They fear that, if the export terminals are built, additional coal trains will add to the problem. “Coal is a toxic pollutant and this action today seeks to stop illegal pollution and keep our river free of dirty coal,” said Brett VandenHeuvel, Executive Director of Columbia Riverkeeper.

Shipping coal by rail and exporting coal is nothing new. In 2011, the US exported 89 million metric tons of coal, up 143 percent from 2002. Most of those exports went through the East Coast ports of Norfolk, New Orleans, and Baltimore to Europe, which is using more coal―not less. Most of this coal was delivered to ports by rail and water pollution has not been a major issue.

Neither is coal dust new. In 1900, coal provided 70 percent of US energy consumption. Factories, railroads, electrical utilities, and home furnaces were powered by coal. During the 1940s and 1950s, fallen snow in Chicago was blackened with coal dust after only a few days. Homeowners washed their walls once a year to remove accumulated coal dust. But thanks to cleaner-burning coal-fired plants and our nation’s shift to natural gas and petroleum, US emissions of coal dust today are at a 50-year low.

While environmentalists complain about coal dust, the real reason they hate coal is their acceptance of the ideology Climatism, the belief that man-made greenhouse gases are destroying Earth’s climate. In 2009 Dr. James Hansen stated, “The trains carrying coal to power plants are death trains. Coal-fired power plants are factories of death.” Environmental groups believe burning coal will cause catastrophic climate change, so “coal dust” is used as an excuse to try to halt coal exports.

But there is no empirical evidence that human greenhouse gas emissions are causing dangerous global warming. Carbon dioxide is a trace gas. Only four of every 10,000 air molecules are carbon dioxide. Ninety-nine percent of Earth’s greenhouse effect is natural, caused by water vapor and natural greenhouse gas emissions from oceans and the biosphere. Global temperatures have not increased for more than ten years, despite a continued rise in atmospheric CO2, confounding the climate models. And despite the furor over Hurricane Sandy, history shows that storms, floods, and droughts today are neither more frequent nor more severe than in past centuries.

Yet, protests against coal in the Pacific Northwest continue to escalate. It seems that “yes we can” works except in the case of export terminals and pipelines.


Steve Goreham is Executive Director of the Climate Science Coalition of America and author of the new book The Mad, Mad, Mad World of Climatism: Mankind and Climate Change Mania.


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Hmmm seems like they are right on schedule if you ask me:) Destroy our economy… save the cheerleader? SIGH!!!


Down here in Houston, we are hoping that the enviros prevail in the Pacific Northwest. Plans are already afoot to build a massive coal port on Pelican Island in Galveston Bay. The idea is that if the coal cannot be shipped west then it can be shipped South and East to Texas and then to China via the Gulf of Mexico and the soon to be completed expansion of the Panama Canal.

Richard D

Fine, send everything through New Orleans or Houston, especially with the Panama Canal widening project due to be completed by 2015.

Robert in Calgary
Dyspeptic Curmudgeon

Well the Daubert hearing should be interesting to sy the least. Wonder if they will put up Hansen and Mann to ‘prove’ mann-made global warming is escalating and caused by CO2?
Ok on second thought I have my doubts that even Mann’s hubris reaches that far.
And iirc, something isvscheduled for tomorrownin Mann v Nat Review & Steyn et al. Mann may be gunshy by the time this reaches court!

James at 48

The actual issue is aerosols and the Asian Brown Cloud, which of course impact both insolation and precip here in the West Coast. The more coal we ship the colder and wetter are our conditions.

Michael Tremblay

” “Coal is a toxic pollutant and this action today seeks to stop illegal pollution and keep our river free of dirty coal,” said Brett VandenHeuvel, Executive Director of Columbia Riverkeeper.”
Does he know that anthracite coal is used in water purification plants to purify water so he can safely drink it, or that coal is used to filter the sewage he is producing so that it can safely be returned to the environment, or that activated carbon used in his tap’s water filter is just as likely to be made from that ‘dirty coal’ he is so actively campaigning against?


As a state resident, living in Edmonds, I have filed an open records request with the University of Washington to obtain both data on all trains included in a study, and the methodology for such a study regarding a “train dust study” conducted by the U of Washington, Bothell.
For once, I wish to force an open and thorough means to independently evaluate such studies, which often, seem to morph into results that the green media of Seattle feel ‘better’ about reporting. I intend to make the news editors of both electronic and print media aware of my action shortly. The university office of public records has responded to my request, stating that the expected information will be made available on April 11th, 2013.
I have repeatedly asked the ‘watermellons’ of Edmonds to meet me at track side here, and show me coal dust. They then, disappear, after reading such requests. I have asked these same eco facists to make a factual comparison as to the damage ( cited ) by coal dust versus the damage caused by the over 1,500 point source pollution entities cited by EPA documents AND septic pollution caused by homes ringing the Puget sound, and once AGAIN, they disappear.
The current governor of Washington state is a huge champion of the failed agenda of CO2 caused global warming – I do not look to him to contribute in any way, to a fair and open evaluation of the transport of coal, by train, thru Washington state.


well, i don’t know why my reply “vanished” so will try one more time …

Every grownup should attend at least one Sierra Club meeting to understand the meaning of the term “arrested development”. Truly amazing that these granola powered, Birkenstock footed, Mein Kampf mini-me’s have any credibility.
You can love nature all you want….but despite all the hugging….every tree is one day away from debris. Human laws do not effect insects, tornadoes, lightning, droughts, disease or a host natural ends to mortal organisms. Carbon Dioxide is mandatory for all life….and there are far worse problems than carbon filled choo-choo trains. Why don’t these eco-purists go stand in front of the Chinese filled coal trains and stop the un-scrubbed Chinese generators ? Oh, that would delay their newest iPhones….never mind.


I have submitted an open records request with the university of washington to obtain all data and methodology regarding a “coal train dust” study that, supposedly has been done, by the university of washington, bothell. The open records department of the university has responded that this information will be made available to me on April 11, 2013.
I want to insure that, if this study comes to light locally, in the media, that it’s results will be reported correctly and completely – rather than selectively, regardless of the results. The green media of Seattle have a very selective way of reporting climate and related news here. I intend to put the news directors and editors on notice.
The current governor of this state is a champion of the failed agenda of CO2 caused global warming. I don’t see him contributing anything that is “fair and open” with regard to the transport of coal thru Washington.
When you ask the ‘water melons’ of Edmonds, WA to actually locate and point out coal dust along the tracks thru this city, they disappear.


These people don’t realize that they are down wind from China and that they’d be better off if China burned the cleanest coal available. Instead, they want China to burn dirtier coal?

Neil Jordan

The war against coal causes some collateral damage:
GE to Cut Back Trains
Pennsylvania Plant to Lose 950 Jobs, as Some Go to Texas
General Electric Co. GE +2.25% plans to cut 950 jobs at its unionized locomotive plant in Pennsylvania and shift one-sixth of the employment to a newer facility in Texas, citing weaker North American locomotive demand due to falling coal prices.
Apr 10, 2013, 7:07am EDT
GE locomotive plant plans to cut 950 jobs in Erie

Tom in Texas

Canvas covers? Relatively cheap and reusable. Cheaper than lawyers?
My dad, during the depression followed coal trains, along with other kids, picking up coal that had “fallen” from the cars.


It is grossly unfair that the U.S. has more protesters per capita than any other country, especially China. To remedy this injustice, we need to immediately begin the redistribution of protesters to other countries. Just one protester per shipload of exports is all I ask. (Sending more than one would be nice except for the increased risk of breeding more of these vermin.)

Gotta agree with Jardinero1, but for a different reason. I work in the oil and gas biz, and every move that hurts coal just ups the demand for oil and gas that much higher and raises the demand, and thus raises the prices which are putting our industry back into boom time. I don’t support doing this, but it’s hard to feel too badly about the fact that a group of fools who don’t like me or the people I work worth are buttering my bread for me every day.
I wonder what they would say if they knew how happy they were making us oil and gas people?


It was always inevitable I suppose, but it is becoming increasingly clear how this will prompted by specific actions, that the real legacy of the AGW hysteria and associated political and business agendas will be the destruction of what used to be known as conservation groups, now transmuted into representatives of Environmentalism as a creed.
It seems inevitable that this will lead to a general abandonment of any commitment to conservation principles at all. Environmentalism is in that sense a parasitic creed, fixed on humanity, which very much expresses the relationship its adherents real – directly dependent or symbiotic – relationship with the natural world which is zero.
Conservation killed by relentless exploitation of the efforts and structures of others by the ultimate consumer class

The coal is dampened before transport in open cars.
Washington should not close its coal plants, so I would rather keep those open than anything else in the world, although we are swimming in hydro. At a meeting recently I was informed that hydro is not catagorized as ‘renewable.’ We have to sell our surplus power from hydro, and also pay for slush funds and worthless wind turbines. What a racket.
“[Former] Washington State Governor Chris Gregoire signed legislation today to close its remaining two coal plants, and will replace them with renewable energy. One plant will close in 2020, the other in 2025.
In the meantime, the legislation requires TransAlta to install additional air pollution control technology in 2013 to reduce nitrogen oxide emissions at its 1600 MW plant. Transalta is also required to contribute $30 million into a community investment fund, which will finance economic development and energy efficiency projects, and $25 million into an energy technology transition fund to support innovative energy technologies and companies in the state.”
“Slush funds” are an Obama tactic too. You know how slush is, it evaporates.

Lawrie Ayres

What we all need are politicians with a spine. The great unwashed outnumber the eco-loons yet pollies gravitate to the greenies to garner votes. It really is time for the silent majority, most of whom work and pay taxes , to make their voices heard. After all without the working taxpayer the ecos would have no teat to suckle. As Margaret Thatcher said ” socialism works until they run out of other people’s money”. Enviros survive on the sweat of someone else’s brow. Bit like flies.

Jeff L

“Environmental groups believe burning coal will cause catastrophic climate change, so “coal dust” is used as an excuse to try to halt coal exports.”
Making up noble sounding causes vs being up front with their true objectives is standard operating procedure for all environmentalists. Why? Because if they were up front & honest about their true objectives, they would never get any support except from a few like minded folks. Their hope is to wear down the opposition using these excuses. As long as the coal companies are persistent, they will win the battle, it will just take more time & money.
I have seen this even at a local level where a group of environmental minded folks tried to prevent a local trail system from being built. The trail system had huge community support but they tried to block it using all sorts of arcane excuses but never once had enough guts to actually say they were against the trail system. It was pathetic, but in the end, the majority prevailed & the trail system was built.


The winds of post-tropical storm known as “Sandy” dropped well below the hurricane level before landfall. NOAA has adjusted its reporting methods because of “Sandy”
The damage from Sandy was mostly storm surge on a location with high population and little experience preparing for tropical storms.


Differentiating organisms that are bad (e.g. that cause infection) with those that are good (e.g. bacteria that live in the gut and provide a service) is the key, if society doesn’t manage this is it will get infected, or fade away and die.


Here’s an earlier WUWT thread, from July 2012, on protests against coal dust:


Interesting – yet another attack on the economies of scale. The intention is to make coal unprofitable to ship since it would be impossible to show any actual harm done in court. If an activist wishes to ban a product they advocate regulations that make the produce unprofitable. Don’t ban guns, for example – make ammunition unaffordable. Make guns unaffordable too by requiring crazy high liability insurance. Years ago in Washington state the loonies were protesting against the white “nuclear death trains”. We’re no stranger to death trains 🙂
This trend is becoming both obvious and interesting.


I am not sure I understand this, if they dont like mountaintop mining we should discuss that, but to end all coal is just wrong. Obama himself was for a huge coal plant in his home state of Illinois before he was President.
Coal is the best option for electricity, and save the natural gas for other uses, but dont export it please!

Well, I’m all for stopping the coal export terminals and trains.
It’s crazy to send that energy to China, to be used against us and our economy, when we can keep it here and use it ourselves. So yeah, go ahead, lie about the dust, make “stuff” up, scream, holler, sacrifice your reputation for the cause, whatever. Just keep that American Coal here in America for Americans…
Only 1/2 /sarc;… Rather like a stopped clock, they are doing the right thing, but for the wrong reasons… It happens every so often, I guess….


Part of your problem is that in the US you think your coal exports are significant. Australia exports about 5 times as much, and Indonesia almost the same. And it’s good quality stuff.
One port alone, Newcastle, loads about 240 million tonnes a year, so your 100 million tonnes total is pretty minor stuff by comparison.
Tell ’em that.

If Sierra Club are so concerned about the open-top coal cars, why don’t they contribute covers for them? They have lotsa money.
Nah – they don’t want solutions – they just want to throw a wrench into the works. Luddites.


@ thingodonta says:
April 10, 2013 at 9:25 pm
A very neat way of making a useful distinction. How to evaluate that, and what to do with those that have infected the host known as humanity, is the real challenge ahead.

Modern Environmentalists = Climate Morons.

Steve Lohr

Just for the record. If you want to know the truth. There is no coal dust falling out of the open car tops to any detectable level. Just go to the cities of Alliance and North Platte Nebraska for the proof. These places see staggering numbers of coal trains pass right through their cities. My wife counted 7 fully loaded trains through Alliance in the span of an hour. I first observed the frequency 6 years ago and I have no reason to believe this doesn’t go on 24/7 year on year. If there was coal dust falling out of the cars it would be piled in huge windrows. It is not. There is none. Nothing. It doesn’t exist, is unworthy of discussion, and should be dismissed as nothing but childish blabber.


jc says:
“How to evaluate that, and what to do with those that have infected the host known as humanity, is the real challenge ahead.”
In my opinion the real power for change lies within academia. Knowledge is power. Youth is attracted to knowledge and to causes. In my opinion academia has been grossly irresponsible in the whole environment matter /and climate change in the last 20-30 years, but I don’t think its intractable.
Part of the way to address the issue is to e.g. enforce proper standards and ensure procedures are followed, and tighten up journals and general academic culture. It’s been done before, the early 20th century was awash with social Darwinism and Marxism within academia, these were defeated ultimately by basic, hard won values, and proper procedures, amongst other ways.

Martin Katchen

I’m sure that there is some way to cover over coal trains. The Russians have had to mine coal in some places that combusts spontaneously if exposed to air during transport. Surely they developed some way to cover over coal cars so that air dosen’t get in and dust dosen’t escape. Especially since BN is going to have to build thousands more coal cars to transport all that increased coal anyway.Apparently this is the major issue:
(from a Spokane Examiner article 12/06/12)
Pat Russell reported seeing coal chunks fall from coal cares waiting for trains to pass. BNSF engineer Steve Hart confirmed that polymer sprays keep the down dust. However, when the coal shifts in transit the seal is breaks causing coal chunks and dust to be released.”
So the issue is that the precautions that Burlington Northern takes to prevent coal dust from being released in transit can be inadequate if the load shifts. And this, plus the traffic tie-ups at grade crossings from 28 coal trains per day plus general freight trains are a real problem for Spokane, with no attempt to mitigate the problem and few new jobs for Spokane (maybe a few more locomotive engineers based in Spokane). So Spokane (and probably the Tri cities may have some legitimate beefs going against BNSF.
However, there’s a guy named Mark Pettibone founder of a company called Clearrails LLC that apparently has a mechanical cover for coal cars that will eliminate this problem. It’s just a matter (which will be much to environmentalist’s chagrin) of getting railroads on board to install these covers.


In Middlesbrough, the local housewives were jubilant when they heard that the local steam engines were to be phased out to be replaced by nice clean diesels. Not so pleased when they found that the nice clean soot from steam engines on their washing, which would fall off when beaten, was replaced by nasty sticky oily soot from the diesels, which would not come off easily.
Coal dust falls quickly to the ground, in the trains it settles to the bottom of the cars. The only area where it was a problem was in the Powder River Basin lines themselves, where coal dust which had not got inside the cars fell on the tracks, and after a few years blocked the drainage, resulting in a very expensive clean up – see “Trains” magazine’s articles re this. After a few miles there was no dust left to fall on the tracks, so no further need to fix. And the lines west are a lot further along. No problem!

Coal is a toxic pollutant
In the same way that limestone, granite and quartz etc are also toxic pollutants. Ban ’em, I say. Ban ’em all!

A point of information.
Several commentators have suggested covers (e.g. of canvas) to prevent dust leaving the coal trucks. This would replace a non-problem with a real problem.
The uncovered coal trucks don’t lose dust but would be converted to potential fire risk if fitted with the suggested covers.
Loss of coal dust is loss of coal. Sellers of coal don’t want to lose any dust because it reduces their profits. Hence, coal stocks in stock piles or in transport trucks are sprayed with water (i.e. are “watered”) to avoid this problem.
Coal stocks would be watered whether or not watering prevented loss of coal dust because the stocks may spontaneously combust (i.e. catch fire) unless kept wet.


Most of those exports went through the East Coast ports of Norfolk, New Orleans, and Baltimore to Europe, which is using more coal―not less.

What an interesting coincidence. Just yesterday Haunting The Library wrote about the increased use of coal in the EU. And it’s not just the EU but China and the rest of the world.

Guardian – 20 November 2012
More than 1,000 new coal plants planned worldwide, figures show
World Resources Institute identifies 1,200 coal plants in planning across 59 countries, with about three-quarters in China and India
The huge planned expansion comes despite warnings from politicians, scientists and campaigners………..


You know if these loons get their ultimate way then people will start chopping down trees. We have seen this with biofuels and massive deforestation in Indonesia to make way for ozone emitting palm oil trees. People in Germany are stealing wood from forests due to high energy prices. Keep it up greens, that’s the ticket. They think all their proposed solutions are simple. If they were we wouldn’t need them to tell us.

“A recent life-cycle assessment suggested that it could take up to 220 years for a plantation to become carbon neutral (W. M. J. Achten and L. V. Verchot Ecol. Soc. 16, 14; 2011).”
“With energy costs escalating, more Germans are turning to wood burning stoves for heat. That, though, has also led to a rise in tree theft in the country’s forests. Woodsmen have become more watchful.”


If coal is a “toxic pollutant” then burning it actually cleans up the environment.


UK Sceptic says:
April 10, 2013 at 11:58 pm
“Coal is a toxic pollutant
In the same way that limestone, granite and quartz etc are also toxic pollutants. Ban ‘em, I say. Ban ‘em all!”
Very true. Especially granite; it’s not only toxic but also radioactive.

Gnome says:
April 10, 2013 at 10:45 pm
Part of your problem is that in the US you think your coal exports are significant. Australia exports about 5 times as much, and Indonesia almost the same. And it’s good quality stuff.
One port alone, Newcastle, loads about 240 million tonnes a year, so your 100 million tonnes total is pretty minor stuff by comparison.
Tell ‘em that.
And next week they are having a Senate Inquiry into coal dust here in Newcastle next week.

Gary Pearse

It’s too bad that the large majority of people, who are hurt by these few anti-human saboteurs aren’t out there with a counter protest. Why do the hateful people have a monopoly on this activity? Why do we bend so easily? I think activism is going to have to be promoted to the larger society who suffer the fall out from all this abuse. Please don’t tell me this is democracy in action.


The Left Coast is Waaay Wackoville. Folks, your obsolete. China and India are the big dogs now.
And they are going to get a lot bigger!! With or without you.

Chuck Nolan

James at 48 says:
April 10, 2013 at 6:40 pm
The actual issue is aerosols and the Asian Brown Cloud, which of course impact both insolation and precip here in the West Coast. The more coal we ship the colder and wetter are our conditions.
“The more coal we ship the colder and wetter are our conditions.”
Ha ha, now that’s funny. We are talking Northwestern US, yes?
Show the evidence for this assertion, please.
Finally we can stop worrying about CAGW.
It’s CAGCooling, now.
Does global cooling still cause the Arctic to melt and drown all the poley bears or has that problem disappeared without mention?
Is there anything else they need to fix or change now that we finally have the science settled (again, still, some more?)
Wetter, colder, more floods, more snow, more tornadoes, more hurricanes, dryer, hotter, more fires, more droughts, no snow and dead baby animals everywhere all over the earth.
Oh, and least we forget all the millions of missing climate refugees.
Are there enough bases covered? Is there nothing that nasty little molecule cannot do?
This all sounds a bit weird. How ’bout we knock off the silliness.
Not having energy is not an option.

What a stupid bunch of hypocritical ignorant eco-terrorists these people are. I bet they keep warm in winter using fossil fuels, swim in their own private heated pools in the summer.


I like my coal trains to be powered by coal too.

Robert of Ottawa

The enviromentalist (sic) groups should have their charitable status removed. They perform no charity.

Willam Abbott

keep us posted on your UofW FOIA. very interesting. there’s not much dust left to blow off after the first 1,000 miles.

lurker passing through, laughing

The environmental movement’s war against humanity continues.
Environmentalist extremists are at least as heartless as the Inquisition, the IRA or Al Qaeda. Like environmentalists, those groups also hated and acted out against those who dared to disagree with them.