If President Obama is serious about smoothing the path for U.S. businesses, he should take up reading the newspaper. Not a day goes by that he wouldn’t find opportunities aplenty to unclog our regulatory arteries.
This past Friday was no exception. The issue? A proposed coal terminal on the Columbia River in Washington. A terminal that would facilitate coal shipments to China, thus aiding one of Mr. Obama’s professed goals—ramping up U.S. exports.
Unfortunately, as the Wall Street Journal reported, local environmentalists want the project scuttled. Not because the terminal’s operations would damage Washington State’s air or water quality, but because burning the coal in far-off China might foul the air – there.
For the record, they also argue that the environmental consequences of mining the coal in Wyoming and Montana have not been sufficiently researched. Let us immediately discard this latter notion. We have been mining in those coal-rich states for more than a century; I’m pretty confident that residents in the region have looked into the attendant pros and cons. In any event, it is the former dispute that should unhinge anyone concerned with our country’s future.
Those opposed to the terminal will argue that if the Chinese have access to our coal, they will not pursue clean energy technologies. The green lobby will thus link U.S. exports to some increased degradation of global air quality. This argument fails because our coal burns cleaner than China’s indigenous resources, which is their most likely alternative. China’s sulfur content, for instance, is 1.1% compared to 0.8% for the Powder River fuel at issue. China’s coal also burns with higher ash. The Chinese, in other words, are not inconsiderate of the environmental impact of energy production.
Not only have they have been building cleaner coal-burning power plants in recent years, moderating the pollution impact, but they have chosen to import more expensive lower sulfur fuel. This policy at the moment is being stonewalled by environmentalists –go figure. At the same time, the Chinese have made vast investments in all kinds of alternative energy production, including nuclear and also “green” approaches. The extraordinary growth of the country –last year at 10.3% and by most estimates better than 9% this year – requires that they pursue all available power sources.
Meanwhile, as the green group wrings their hands over emissions in China, U.S. citizens go without a $100 million project, billed as likely to produce 125 construction jobs and 75 permanent jobs, in a region where unemployment exceeds 12%.
As it happens, the shipping of coal to China is also currently limited by a shortage of suitable West Coast terminals. As U.S. utilities migrate to using cleaner-burning natural gas, of which we have an abundant supply, coal producers are increasingly looking for new markets. Exporting to countries like China seems a great opportunity – an opportunity that environmentalists are currently prohibiting. Apparently some companies are exporting through Vancouver, where the enticement of jobs and income evidently overwhelmed green protests.
This situation is symptomatic of the kind of hurdles that U.S. companies routinely face. It is time to put the needs of our workers ahead of all other considerations – including the gigantic environmental lobby. When Mr. Obama finishes straightening up this imbroglio, he might next turn his attentions to another item that showed up in Friday’s paper- Shell Oil’s abandonment for the current year of its drilling program offshore Alaska – on acreage it has under lease in the Beaufort Sea. Because the company was unable to secure air permits from the EPA for the project, Shell will not be able to spend the expected $100 to $150 million on a test well. U.S. Senator Mark Begich (D-Alaska) claimed the stalling by the EPA cost the state 800 direct jobs and millions in related contracting work. Meanwhile, the trans-Alaska pipeline operates at one-third capacity.
I can’t wait to see what’s in today’s paper.