To export coal, or not to export coal

Jul 30, 2013

Coal development generates money in Montana. Executive Director of the Montana Coal Council Bud Clinch said an average train carrying coal has about 120 cars, and represents about $30,000 of local, state, and federal taxes being paid.

He said Coal is worth continuing to invest in, it’s what Montana has, and the demand for it is not going away.

“I guess I don’t know if it’s our responsibility to become the world police. South Korea and Japan and China are on a path to increase the standard of living in their countries,” Clinch said electrification increases the standard of living, providing for things like purified water, lights, and heating among others.

“Coal is the dirtiest fuel we are now using in the world, and we need to get off of coal because the problems with coal are not going to go away,” Northern Plains Resource Council member Beth Kaeding said Coal dust, diesel engines used to transport the coal to the markets, and the effect of burning coal on global climate change are some of the impacts make the cost of coal too high.

Kaeding said the Northern Plains Resource Council is a grassroots conservation and family agriculture group out of Billings with a focus on protecting water quality for family farms and ranches. She said it formed 40 years ago in response coal mining and its impacts.

“We formed because many of our members livelihoods as ranchers and as farmers depend entirely on clean air and water, native soils and vegetation, and lands that remain intact, and there are significant on the ground impacts from coal mining,” Kaeding said.

A development at the center of this issue is the proposed Gateway Pacific Terminal on the Washington coast. The Gateway Pacific Terminal would allow for large ships, and would be a multi-commodity facility designed to ship grain, potash, and coal.

SSA Marine’s Bob Watters said the proposed development would have the capacity to ship 48-million-tons of coal to Asia. He said right now, Asia alone burns 5 billion tons of coal a year, and if the US doesn’t provide it, it can get sourced from Indonesia, South Africa, or Australia. He said the coal from places like the Powder River Basin is relatively cleaner.

“It’s lower in ash and it’s lower in sulfur content. So, by burning this particular coal over in Asia, it does help on a relative basis versus some of the other coals that they can burn. The other element is, if they’re going to burn it anyway, then why not the United States generate these 40,000 jobs that we can generate, generate the 5.5 billion in foreign trade,” Watters said.

Kaeding said it’s not a “not in my backyard” thing for the Northern Plains Resource Council when it comes to coal development.

“We are trying to move our country and the world onto cleaner, sustainable fuels. The impacts of coal mining are great, being more and more recognized; has air impacts, land impacts, water impacts,” Kaeding said people in other countries are also trying to move beyond coal, even in China.