Coal Trains Raising Ruckus Up and Down the West Coast

Hank Sims / Wednesday, Jan. 23, 2013 @ 12:30 p.m. / Economy

Confused about the East-West railroad-building mania that has washed over large segments of the Humboldt County populace? You and the LoCO both. From the outside, you just have to read it as a well-intentioned but ‘roided-out impulse to ¡DO SOMETHING ABOUT JOBS!, mostly among people for whom the term “job” necessarily implies the lifting of heavy objects. It’ll cost untold billions of dollars and we’re not sure who’s going to pay for it or what benefit it’ll actually bring, but we simply HAVE to pursue it. For the CHILDREN! 

Well, you can read it as cargo cult, as the LoCO tends to do, or you can read it as conspiracy. Or maybe some combination of both — some people believe the road to salvation leads through Red Bluff, others simply see a chance to make a buttload of $$$.

If you’re looking to flush out the latter theory, you probably want to take a look at a report published by Mother Jones yesterday. Datelined from the Port of Morrow — yes, that oneMoJo Climate Desk Reporter Tim McDonnell takes a peek at the hellacious fights happening all over the Pacific Northwest over the subject of coal exports to the Far East. MoJo calls it “one of the biggest climate fights of 2013.”

It’s the next giant leap forward for the US coal industry, which has in recent years turned increasingly to the East as domestic demand dwindles and Obama-era clean air regulations make it next to impossible to build new coal-burning facilities at home. But Big Coal’s ability to sell its wares overseas is increasingly bottlenecked by maxed-out export facilities, most of which are on the Atlantic-facing East Coast, anyway, better situated for shipments to Hamburg than Hong Kong. So, says Brookings Institute energy analyst Charles Ebinger, building the new West Coast terminals could be a matter of life or death for US coal.

So, yeah — maybe you could read it that way: Eureka kazillionaire East-West backer Rob Arkley, perhaps in spiritual communion with various Vanderbilts and Goulds and Stanfords of yore, believes he can lay track fast enough to get in on this action. 

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