PDX and .xls: What my spreadsheets tell me about coal in the Northwest
I decided to look up from my spreadsheets on Monday and attend the Power Past Coal rally in downtown Portland. With my hippie, street vendor burrito in hand (filled with things that only rabbits should eat), I arrived to join a crowd of 600 folks in Pioneer Square.
By Conner Sharpe
As the Administrative Director for Climate Solutions, I
rarely have the opportunity to experience the work of the organization first
hand. We are powerfully committed to
keeping our administrative costs low, so the two of us in administration are
incredibly busy keeping this complex organization running smoothly. Fortunately, I decided to look up from my
spreadsheets on Monday and attend the Power Past Coal rally in downtown
Portland. With my hippie, street vendor
burrito in hand (filled with things that only rabbits should eat), I arrived to
join a crowd of 600 folks in Pioneer Square.
Now before I continue about the rally, in the spirit of full disclosure, I need to let you that my Grandfather worked with coal, and my Grandmother died from lung complications that she got from exposure to coal dust from washing his clothes. Really. Washing his clothes.
Additionally, my partner has asthma, and we interact with rail lines on a daily basis. Exposure to coal dust during an asthma attack could be the end of him, and I’d rather have him around for a while (most days). You can imagine that I want us to win this fight against the coal export terminals dusting our countryside and homes with foulness.
Now that you know where I stand on coal, I can report on
the activities of this incredible day. Over 600 folks showed up to give those
coal companies a piece of their minds. People
were asked to sign petitions, wear fancy facemasks and buttons and hold up
A woman (who my Grandmother would have called “regular folk”) spoke about the impacts of living on a rail line with only a couple of coal trains coming by daily. She has to sweep and hose down her porch every day because of the coal dust. I remember thinking, “who has time to sweep the porch everyday?” and wondering what her water bill must be like (I went home and made a spreadsheet and figured it could cost her as much as $50 a month on her water bill in the summer to keep her porch clean). So, imagine the impact 60 trains a day could have on her water bill.
Then, Hao Xin a Riverkeeper from China, got us all riled up expressing, in no uncertain terms, that he did not want dirty US coal poisoning his communities. He was pissed, and rightfully so. Let’s face it, we will all pay for coal heading to China in global warming pollution, but they will feel the immediate impact of the coal plants in their air, their water and their food. He also reminded us the painful fact that China leads the world in clean energy production. China. Not the US. Not Canada. Not even those freakishly liberal Scandinavians.China. I felt ashamed.
Next Robert Kennedy, Jr., all raspy-voiced and in Kennedy stature, gave us a naked view of our future if we let the coal companies take foot in our communities.
Here is what he shared with the crowd:
1. Coal export doesn’t create jobs: Each coal port would provide as many jobs as two Starbucks. That’s it. They are not here to give us jobs.
2. Coal companies make the profit, and we pay the bill. Coal requires significantly enhanced infrastructure upgrades: stronger rail lines, better roads, better bridges. We pay for those from our taxes. Coal companies make profits and don’t reinvest in our community; those profits go to Wall Street.
3. Where there is coal, there is destruction. Coal companies have managed to clear out whole towns in West Virginia due to the toxic impacts of their mining practices.
4. Where there is coal, there is corruption. Coal companies have greased the palms of politicians to such an extent that laws are made to support them and take away basic property rights of residents and eviscerating the laws meant to protect the Appalachians.
5. Coal is toxic. It is full of mercury and other poisons that have brought mercury levels in fresh water fish to toxic levels in all parts of the US.
6. Vancouver, BC has a coal terminal that we help pay for. Those trains don’t travel through Canada, they travel through the US, down the Columbia and up our rail lines into BC. Why? Because Canada has had the smarts to make coal transported that way illegal. We pay for the terminal in BC in healthcare and infrastructure costs. I had to take a moment to curse the Canadians for being so damn smart.
So, clearly, we don’t need to keep using this dirty fuel - anywhere. My spreadsheets have done the math, and they have told me so. There is more prosperity to be had in clean energy and so many costs to coal. We can do better.