Outside View: Coal exports save lives here and abroad

By TOM TANTON, UPI Outside View Commentator  |  April 4, 2013 at 12:03 AM
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LINCOLN, Calif., April 4 (UPI) -- The governors of Oregon and Washington have asked for unprecedented "life-cycle impact" analysis of five planned export terminals and the cargo being transported through them before the Army Corps of Engineers issue permits.

In particular, the governors have asked that the emissions effects of burning coal outside the United States be evaluated for global climate change impacts. The expanded terminals would export others goods, such as grain to food-starved regions.

Thousands of high-paying construction jobs are at stake in a region where construction jobs are at their lowest point in a decade.

The permitting process for new projects -- a process that takes on average 3 1/2 years and way longer than global averages -- would become completely unmanageable if the evaluations were expanded to require the type of review the two governors are calling for.

Even the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, responsible for conducting Environmental Impact Studies, indicated they may not explore a study so unnecessarily broad.

Furthermore, last week the U.S. Senate voted to "expedite exports from the United States through reform of the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 in such a manner that greenhouse gas emissions produced outside the Unites States by any good exported from the United States are not subject to the requirements of that Act."

That same act requires that "alternatives" to projects be evaluated, including the "no project" alternative.

What the governors fail to acknowledge is the probable impacts of the most likely alternative, if the terminals are delayed or stopped due to the expansive of review they call for.

Coal remains an important part of the affordable energy equation in the United States and globally. In 2011, 42 percent of electricity in the United States came from coal, 41 percent globally, and approximately one-third of the Puget Sound's. Access to affordable energy is essential to energy diversification for U.S. allies.

Modern society's appetite for electrical power is huge and still growing, while the developing world's electricity appetite is growing even faster.

As Japan moves away from nuclear, estimates show the Japanese will increase their coal use 50 percent next year. Developing countries in particular need access to affordable, modern energy to improve their quality of life. Providing electricity improves a countries economy, lowers mortality and ultimately leads to more environmentally capable populations as basic subsistence needs are met.

Continued scavenging of wood harms forests and burning kerosene leads to indoor air pollution and high carbon dioxide.

Powder River Basin coal is superior to coal from other potential sources in Asia and definitely superior to burning biomass, kerosene or rainforest products, by any metric. However, those archaic energy forms, or dirtier coal, will be used more if the export terminals are delayed. Poverty is the worst polluter.

In developing countries, women and children spend the better part of their day gathering fuel to cook meals and they are denied nighttime light. Providing them electricity frees them from such drudgery and allows more time in the day -- for education and other improvement opportunity. Denying electricity for these people, by denying them access to affordable electricity generating fuels like coal is, frankly, inhumane.

Approval of the terminals and the export of U.S. products serve valuable and necessary global needs. And in doing so, will provide billions of dollars in private investments to grow U.S. exports of other products, such as grain and timber.

Jobs at home and abroad will be created and improve the quality of life everywhere. Greenhouse gas emissions will likely be lower than without the terminals, as other countries rely on dirtier coal and more "traditional" fuels.

They should be approved, without extraordinary analysis not called for under existing law.


(Tom Tanton is president of T² & Associates. Tanton has 40 years of energy and technology policy experience, having served as principal policy adviser at the California Energy Commission and general manager at Electric Power Research Institute.)


(United Press International's "Outside View" commentaries are written by outside contributors who specialize in a variety of important issues. The views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of United Press International. In the interests of creating an open forum, original submissions are invited.)

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