Coal shipments from Montana to China not good for the economy

The Army Corps of Engineers and other agencies are holding hearings on proposals to take coal by train from Wyoming and Montana through Idaho, Oregon and Washington to terminals on the Washington and Oregon Coast for shipment to China. More information at the Power Past Coal Campaign.

Testimony we submitted: 

As part of the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS)  for the proposed coal terminal, please include data detailing the results of shipping and burning that coal on climate, on human health, the environment and the economy.

If a government official has control of a loaded gun, someone asks if they can pass it to another person, the official agrees and it’s used for murder, the official and the government become part of that crime. We are asking you to make our government take responsibility for the results of its actions.

Building a terminal to ship coal will result in an increase in global warming. Emissions from burning and shipping  fossil fuel kill 5 million people a year now, through drought, flood, hunger, disease and trauma according to the  DARA Climate Vulnerability Monitor.

If the EIS considers the economy and employment, it needs to include study of how global warming reduces productivity now and over the coming decades and the alternative of a green energy economy.

According to DARA, continued burning of fossil fuels will shrink the gross domestic product, costing us 6 times more than it would cost us to invest in energy efficiency and clean technology and reduce the risks of global warming.

The fossil fuel industry is spending its ample profits on intense lobbying and public relations to keep their 85% monopoly of the energy market, We have a responsibility to resist, to champion competitiveness. Society should no longer pick up the tab for the many external costs of fossil fuel or give permission for hazardous investments.

The cost of wind and solar electricity has been dropping steadily over the past decades and is already competitive with electricity generated by gas or coal in many places. By the time the terminal would be completed, solar electricity will clearly be a cheaper option.

Why would China then want to buy our coal?  China is already producing wind power for as low as 7 cents a kilowatt-hour and overflowing with cheap solar panel production. Green technology, including batteries, grids and efficiency innovations manufactured in America are the key to a stronger economy, increased exports and profits to our communities. 

Competitive Green Technology for a Strong America

A U.S. National Intelligence Council report predicts that before 2030 Asia will have more gross domestic product, military spending and technological investment than North America and Europe.

A new study by IEA , “Medium-Term Renewable Energy Market Report 2012, says that renewable electricity generation should expand by 1,840 TWh between 2011 and 2017, almost 60% above the 1,160 TWh growth registered between 2005 and 2011. Renewable generation will increasingly shift from the OECD to new markets, with non-OECD countries accounting for two-thirds of this growth. Of the 710 GW of new global renewable electricity capacity expected, China accounts for almost 40%.”

Saudi Arabia has announced  that it plans to power 30% of its country’s growing energy needs with solar by 2030 on their sunny deserts.  Now they burn a third of the oil they produce to cool buildings in their 122oF summer months. Their oil, being a lighter crude, has a lower carbon footprint than oil from the Canadian oil sands.

It is time for America to exert its leadership, and turn its formidable talent for innovation and business development to industries that will play a pivotal role in this century’s economy, manufacturing  solar, wind, geothermal, battery, grid and other green technology. The rewards will be high.

The consequence of rejecting this opportunity and continuing to develop coal, oil, and natural gas, is increased  frequency of  record breaking weather events ,  damages to our coastal cities, agriculture, and international social instability. We can do better.

Green Energy Made in America

A columnist  disagrees with President Obama’s decision to add duties to imported Chinese solar panels, claiming that it is “to create an empire of subsidized domestic “green” companies, dub them a “strategic” industry, and ladle out taxpayer dollars and regulatory favors in return for campaign donations.” ‘The Dumbest Trade War…’ by H  Jenkins Oct 12, 2012 WSJ

Response:

The safety of the American people is the primary responsibility of the US government. The 2010 US Quadrennial Military Review says that US dependence on oil is a serious vulnerability, and not just foreign oil, but all oil.  Because the U.S. has only 3% of the world’s reserves of oil and since the U.S. military is the world’s largest single buyer of oil, our foreign policy is subject to pressure from the regimes that sell us $350 billion worth of oil every year.  The big reserves of oil are in Russia, Saudi Arabia, China, Iran, United Arab Emirates, Venezuela and more; with every ten cent hike in the price of fuel, those countries get richer. To depend on oil from American territory is not a solution because what we are getting now is increasingly expensive to extract, from under the Arctic Ocean, squeezed out of sand or forced from cracks in rock.

Clean energy is indeed a strategic industry.

Making electricity from solar and wind is now no more expensive in many places  than making it by burning coal or natural gas, and it is getting cheaper.  The cost of installing solar energy, according to Bloomberg’s first quarter Clean Energy Market Briefing was $7 per watt in 2007, $3 in 2010 and is now less than $1 per watt.  Subsidies have helped these industries scale up, but once they are mass-producing the prices drop, and profits increase. In Spain, even after subsidies for clean energy were dropped, the industries continued to operate with 5 to 15% profit.

Using green electricity to replace oil will be increasingly attractive as the price of electric batteries drops. A McKinsey study released in July estimates that mass production and new technology are lowering the cost of batteries and could make the cost of buying and operating an electric vehicles the same as a vehicle running on gasoline within 6 years.  China is promoting swappable batteries, particularly with fleet vehicles as a way to deal with slow charging time, although 20 minute charging is now common.

Almost every car company is now producing electric or hybrid models. They will provide real competition with oil. Most Americans have stopped believing the corporate hype that oil, coal and natural gas are our only options.  Solar, wind and other green technology attracted $260 billion of investors’ funds worldwide in 2011.

Solar panel manufacturers in China used large government loans, by one estimate $18 billion, to buy up domestic and foreign panel manufacturers, drop prices to gain market dominance and plan to set prices higher according to a report in the New York Times.

The  U.S. Commerce Department has responded by imposing 24 to 35% tariffs on solar panels from China.

A better option would be to increase tax credits for purchases of American made solar panels, and help local industries scale up to mass produce, export, and profit from increasing international demand for energy.