A dirty business: Coal export terminals meet rising opposition

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As the climate change doomsday clock keeps on ticking, corporate polluters are eying Asia as a new market for U.S. coal. Multinational carbon traffickers have proposed a barrage of new port terminals in the U.S. Pacific Northwest to export coal from the Powder River Basin in Wyoming and Montana. They are backed by the typical slew of double-speaking politicians, whose chief concern is helping the capitalists amass ever-greater profits, and some union officials, who see only the short-term promise of jobs.

Catastrophe in waiting. The export plan unites several corporate heavyweights.

The Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) railway of billionaire investor Warren Buffett would transport the coal of companies like Peabody Energy to freight ships in Oregon and Washington. The proposal for the Gateway Pacific Terminal (GPT) at Cherry Point in Washington state comes from war profiteer and union opponent SSA Marine (formerly Stevedoring Services of America), which employs the husband of U.S. Senator Patty Murray, Washington’s senior U.S. senator. GPT would be North America’s largest coal export facility, handling 48 million tons of coal per year!

BNSF would also run the coal through prime farmland and along the Columbia River to the Millennium Bulk Terminals (MBT) in Longview, Wash. MBT is a joint operation of Arch Coal and Australia-based Ambre Energy, both well-known union-busters and polluters.

Kinder Morgan, an energy pipelines and terminals giant, is proposing another export station at the Port of St. Helens in Oregon. Kinder Morgan is also a well-documented fouler of the environment.

Despite the unsavory records of the players involved, the business-labor Alliance for Northwest Jobs and Exports promises innovative coal terminals and efficient, safe transportation that will boost the still-flagging economy.

But opponents of the scheme aren’t fooled by corporate platitudes. They point to drastic consequences like global warming, which is largely a byproduct of fossil fuel use, and the harm that coal dust scattered by the trains will do to humans, other species, and our shared habitat along the coal trains’ path.

Freedom Socialist Party members in Washington and Oregon are among those who have flocked to protests and hearings. On Dec. 13 in Seattle, about 2,500 people showed up to protest the Gateway Pacific Terminal at a hearing for limited public comment, held by government agencies in charge of assessing the project’s impact before issuing permits. Attending and speaking were unionists, many Indian tribal leaders and members, and hundreds of Sierra Club members and other environmental activists.

Seize the means to save the planet! Energy corporations have proven to be poisonous stewards of the environment. The only way to liberate ourselves from the energy privateers and accomplish public oversight is to take the profits out of the industry — to nationalize energy under workers’ control.

Then workers, collaborating with affected communities and independent scientists, can democratically make rational decisions about how to meet energy needs without pitting one area or country against another — or jobs against the environment. The U.S. military-industrial complex is the world’s greatest consumer of carbon fuels, and the money that props it up could be redirected to a massive program of public jobs developing clean, sustainable energy.

It is in the interest of everyone concerned about this coal export expansion to support the Native leaders in the forefront of the fight. It’s also important to oppose the xenophobic jingoism spouted by corporate liars, which pits U.S. working people against their sisters and brothers in places like China and India — where labor unrest, anti-corruption protests, opposition to industrial pollution, and coal train blockades are on the rise. Rejecting “not in my back yard” in favor of solidarity is the only way forward in opposing the planetary destroyers.

Mark Drummond is an SEIU union activist. Contact him at mjamesd@gmail.com.

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