Both of my grandfathers spent their adult lives many feet underground chipping away at coal, working for Peabody Energy.
Fast forward 100 years.
Their granddaughter (that’s me) has spent the last six years chipping away at the efforts of the coal industry to locate seven coal export facilities in the Northwest and BC, Canada.
My grandfathers were a part of helping to provide energy to the engines that powered our economy. That is their legacy and a source of pride for me.
It is my hope that my grandchildren will take pride that I was part of a movement that called for dramatically cutting the use of coal and replacing it with cleaner sources of energy. I also hope that they will look back at this time and know that workers in the fossil fuel sector – just like my grandfathers – were not neglected in this transition.
It's been little more than a month since the conclusion of the Paris climate talks, and we can feel the momentum growing towards a future of steadily declining fossil fuel use. The first few weeks of 2016 showed a number of new indications that change is inevitable.
Moratorium on Coal Leasing: After a round of hearings in 2015 exploring the public’s view of the coal leasing program, the Obama Administration has called for a moratorium on coal leasing to fix the program so taxpayers get a fair return on our public coal and to accurately account for the true costs of mining public coal, including climate impacts.
This is particularly important to the export issue considering that much of the coal tapped for future export belongs to all of us and is currently heavily subsidized by the taxpayers. We were able to relay this message during the hearings on this issue last year.
We now have the opportunity to fix a program that has been badly broken, costing American taxpayers as much as $1 billion per year. Auctions with only one bidder, self-dealing between shell companies to their affiliates that cuts returns to the public, changing markets, and growing awareness of the true costs of climate change need to be addressed.
Arch Coal Bankruptcy: Arch Coal, the second largest U.S. coal producer and co-owner of the Millennium coal export project in Longview, declared bankruptcy. While Arch will continue operating under the bankruptcy court protection, it is clear that there is no financing available for huge, capital-intensive projects such as the proposed coal terminal.
One of three crude by rail proposals in Grays Harbor jettisons its plan: Renewable Energy Group, one of the three companies proposing crude oil shipping terminals in Grays Harbor said it will abandon plans to handle crude oil. The company’s comments state “REG has concluded that its future plans at Grays Harbor do not include handling crude oil.”
When it comes to stopping coal export facilities and oil transport/export facilities, we’ve been successful to date. Of seven coal export terminals proposed for Washington, Oregon and British Columbia, only three remain on the table: Millennium Bulk Terminals in Longview and Gateway Pacific Terminal in Cherry Point, Wash, Fraser Surrey in BC. All three coal terminals have suffered a series of financial and political setbacks resulting in extensive delays. Three other proposals were shelved or pulled, and in 2014, the Oregon Department of State Lands denied a critical permit for a fourth proposed facility at the Port of Morrow.
With oil, we have seen one proposal pulled from consideration. Which one is next?
I never met my grandfathers, both of whom died before I was born. But I know in my heart that, just as I take pride in their legacy, they would take pride in mine.