Full-Throttle Battle Underway to Stop Coal Chute to China
By Jules Boykoff
The U.S. coal industry’s wants to convert the western U.S. into a railroad and barge pipeline for coal mined in Montana and Wyoming and hauled along the Columbia River to the Pacific Ocean for export to China and elsewhere. Photo by Paul K. Anderson 2012 – paulkanderson.com
In the Pacific Northwest, activists and their allies are ramping up for a full-throttle battle over a proposal to haul coal across the west for export to China. Big Coal’s latest master plan promises to generate a second epicenter of climate-change resistance—our very own Keystone XL pipeline showdown.
With coal prices plummeting, thanks in large part to the spike in natural gas use, coal barons are desperate to offload their lucre. Showing ever-greater verve, they’re dumping it in overseas markets, especially China. The U.S. Energy Information Administration projects U.S. coal exports will hit an all-time high in 2012—some 125 to 133 million tons—more than doubling 2009 export levels and surpassing a record set in 1981.
When it comes to climate disruption, these are ghastly numbers. After all, 2012 looks like it’ll be the hottest year on record for the contiguous U.S. The year brought devastating drought and catastrophic storms. While we can’t peg any single weather event to climate change, this is precisely the sort of climate seesaw scientists have predicted. Meanwhile, the Arctic suffered record losses in sea ice and snow cover. And globally, 2012 is on course to become the ninth hottest year ever. Revving up coal consumption—the dirtiest of fossil fuels—is not going to help matters, to say the least.
That’s where the Pacific Northwest enters the picture. This month the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) staged what may well be the only public meetings on the permitting process for the U.S. coal industry’s hail-Mary moment: to convert the western U.S. into a railroad and barge pipeline for coal mined in Montana and Wyoming and hauled along the Columbia River to the Pacific Ocean for export to China and elsewhere.
This Morrow-Pacific coal export proposal—which is being pushed by Australia-based Ambre Energy—will annually ship overseas nearly nine million tons of coal. The plan has dredged up blistering opposition. The Sierra Club—buoyed by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s donation of $50 million last year—has made it a centerpiece of its Beyond Coal campaign. Groups like Columbia Riverkeeper and the Power Past Coal coalition have rallied locals to the cause. The Yakama Nation, Lummi Nation and other Native American tribes in the Pacific Northwest have challenged the proposal’s logic and merit. The Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians demanded a comprehensive environmental impact assessment while the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission questioned the wisdom of hauling coal through at-risk waterways, which could undercut the tribes’ treaty rights.
More than 800 people packed the meeting hall in Portland. Just before the event commenced, Cesia Kearns, a Sierra Club campaign representative, told me, “Coal is the culprit on climate change. If we continue to burn coal at current levels, much less increase them, we’ll have no hope of turning climate change around.”
This sentiment was shared by many people who asked questions or provided public comment. They interrogated DEQ about air pollution from open-topped trainloads of coal. They quizzed officials on the hazards the project could cause for salmon runs and other wildlife in the region. They asked about the effects additional coal-burning would have on climate change. And they pressed officials about the literal blowback that could emerge: coal burned in China produces mercury that wafts back to the Pacific Northwest.
Although the DEQ web site states, “The effects of climate change have serious implications for Oregon’s economy and environment,” you wouldn’t know it from the remarks of their representatives on hand. DEQ officials squirmed left and right, claiming only a splinter-sized purview. Those in attendance openly guffawed at their egregious evasions. DEQ project managers repeatedly asserted that an array of topics—from the transport of coal to the proposal’s effects on the climate—was “outside the scope” of their narrow remit. This was met with a sea of Occupy-style frowny fingers and occasional bellows of disapproval. With each outburst, the moderator threatened to shut down the entire meeting.
One couldn’t help but walk away from the meeting with the feeling that the DEQ’s fluffy banter about “meeting the challenge of climate change head-on” was a greenwash. The willingness of officials to take the company’s emissions estimates at face value was alarming, their skirting of the issues was appalling. Each stiff-lipped response telegraphed approval for the proposal—you could almost see Ambre Energy’s application slithering through the overlapping patchwork of jurisdiction, which DEQ officials used as an alibi for deflecting their responsibilities.
What also became clear at the public meeting is that activists are embracing the grubby struggle to keep western coal in the ground. If this coal is scraped from the earth and shipped overseas, it’s a climate game-changer. DEQ has until the end of February to make permitting determinations—and they could always be trumped by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which is also weighing permits for the project. But activists are already talking about Plan B.
Campaigners are not going to step aside while fossil-fuel bigwigs transmogrify the Columbia River into a gargantuan coal chute to China. One activist from Occupy Portland told me if the permits are granted and Big Coal’s dream comes true, spikier tactics will emerge to gum up the gears. Climate mavens pay heed—this is shaping up to be the left coast Keystone. The direct-action battle may soon have another front.
Jules Boykoff is Associate Professor and Department Chair at Pacific University’s Department of Politics and Government. You can follow Jules on Twitter at @JulesBoykoff.
Visit EcoWatch’s COAL EXPORTS page for more related news on this topic.
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1. Stay Informed<p>A first order of business in pet evacuation planning is to understand and be ready for the possible threats in your area. Visit <a href="https://www.ready.gov/be-informed" target="_blank">Ready.gov</a> to learn more about preparing for potential disasters such as floods, hurricanes, and wildfires. Then pay attention to related updates by tuning <a href="http://www.weather.gov/nwr/" target="_blank">NOAA Weather Radio</a> to your local emergency station or using the <a href="https://www.fema.gov/mobile-app" target="_blank">FEMA app</a> to get National Weather Service alerts.</p>
2. Ensure Your Pet is Easily Identifiable<p><span>Household pets, including indoor cats, should wear collars with ID tags that have your mobile phone number. </span><a href="https://www.avma.org/microchipping-animals-faq" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Microchipping</a><span> your pets will also improve your chances of reunion should you become separated. Be sure to add an emergency contact for friends or relatives outside your immediate area.</span></p><p>Additionally, use <a href="https://secure.aspca.org/take-action/order-your-pet-safety-pack" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">'animals inside' door/window stickers</a> to show rescue workers how many pets live there. (If you evacuate with your pets, quickly write "Evacuated" on the sticker so first responders don't waste time searching for them.)</p>
3. Make a Pet Evacuation Plan<p> "No family disaster plan is complete without including your pets and all of your animals," says veterinarian Heather Case in <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q9NRJkFKAm4" target="_blank">a video</a> produced by the American Veterinary Medical Association.</p><p>It's important to determine where to take your pet in the event of an emergency.</p><p>Red Cross shelters and many other emergency shelters allow only service animals. Ask your vet, local animal shelters, and emergency management officials for information on local and regional animal sheltering options.</p><p>For those with access to the rare shelter that allows pets, CDC offers <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/healthypets/emergencies/pets-in-evacuation-centers.html" target="_blank">tips on what to expect</a> there, including potential health risks and hygiene best practices.</p><p>Beyond that, talk with family or friends outside the evacuation area about potentially hosting you and/or your pet if you're comfortable doing so. Search for pet-friendly hotel or boarding options along key evacuation routes.</p><p>If you have exotic pets or a mix of large and small animals, you may need to identify multiple locations to shelter them.</p><p>For other household pets like hamsters, snakes, and fish, the SPCA recommends that if they normally live in a cage, they should be transported in that cage. If the enclosure is too big to transport, however, transfer them to a smaller container temporarily. (More on that <a href="https://www.spcai.org/take-action/emergency-preparedness/evacuation-how-to-be-pet-prepared" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">here</a>.)</p><p>For any pet, a key step is to establish who in your household will be the point person for gathering up pets and bringing their supplies. Keep in mind that you may not be home when disaster strikes, so come up with a Plan B. For example, you might form a buddy system with neighbors with pets, or coordinate with a trusted pet sitter.</p>
4. Prepare a Pet Evacuation Kit<p>Like the emergency preparedness kit you'd prepare for humans, assemble basic survival items for your pets in a sturdy, easy-to-grab container. Items should include:</p><ul><li>Water, food, and medicine to last a week or two;</li><li>Water, food bowls, and a can opener if packing wet food;</li><li>Litter supplies for cats (a shoebox lined with a plastic bag and litter may work);</li><li>Leashes, harnesses, or vehicle restraints if applicable;</li><li>A <a href="https://www.avma.org/resources/pet-owners/emergencycare/pet-first-aid-supplies-checklist" target="_blank">pet first aid kit</a>;</li><li>A sturdy carrier or crate for each cat or dog. In addition to easing transport, these may serve as your pet's most familiar or safe space in an unfamiliar environment;</li><li>A favorite toy and/or blanket;</li><li>If your pet is prone to anxiety or stress, the American Kennel Club suggests adding <a href="https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/home-living/create-emergency-evacuation-plan-dog/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">stress-relieving items</a> like an anxiety vest or calming sprays.</li></ul><p>In the not-unlikely event that you and your pet have to shelter in different places, your kit should also include:</p><ul><li>Detailed information including contact information for you, your vet, and other emergency contacts;</li><li>A list with phone numbers and addresses of potential destinations, including pet-friendly hotels and emergency boarding facilities near your planned evacuation routes, plus friends or relatives in other areas who might be willing to host you or your pet;</li><li>Medical information including vaccine records and a current rabies vaccination tag;</li><li>Feeding notes including portions and sizes in case you need to leave your pet in someone else's care;</li><li>A photo of you and your pet for identification purposes.</li></ul>
5. Be Ready to Evacuate at Any Time<p>It's always wise to be prepared, but stay especially vigilant in high-risk periods during fire or hurricane season. Practice evacuating at different times of day. Make sure your grab-and-go kit is up to date and in a convenient location, and keep leashes and carriers by the exit door. You might even stow a thick pillowcase under your bed for middle-of-the-night, dash-out emergencies when you don't have time to coax an anxious pet into a carrier. If forecasters warn of potential wildfire, a hurricane, or other dangerous conditions, bring outdoor pets inside so you can keep a close eye on them.</p><p>As with any emergency, the key is to be prepared. As the American Kennel Club points out, "If you panic, it will agitate your dog. Therefore, <a href="https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/home-living/create-emergency-evacuation-plan-dog/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">pet disaster preparedness</a> will not only reduce your anxiety but will help reduce your pet's anxiety too."</p>
Evacuating Horses and Other Farm Animals<p>The same basic principles apply for evacuating horses and most other livestock. Provide each with some form of identification. Ensure that adequate food, water, and medicine are available. And develop a clear plan on where to go and how to get there.</p><p>Sheltering and transporting farm animals requires careful coordination, from identifying potential shelter space at fairgrounds, racetracks, or pastures, to ensuring enough space is available in vehicles and trailers – not to mention handlers and drivers on hand to support the effort.</p><p>For most farm animals, the Red Cross advises that you consider precautionary evacuation when a threat seems imminent but evacuation orders haven't yet been announced. The American Veterinary Medical Association has <a href="https://www.avma.org/resources/pet-owners/emergencycare/large-animals-and-livestock-disasters" target="_blank">more information</a>.</p>
Bottom Line: If You Need to Evacuate, So Do Your Pets<p>As the Humane Society warns, pets left behind in a disaster can easily be injured, lost, or killed. Plan ahead to make sure you can safely evacuate your entire household – furry members included.</p>
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