Can controversial coal be shipped from old military bases?
Thursday, October 18, 2018
It’s no secret that the current presidential administration favors dirtier forms of energy, like coal production. About one year ago, at the U.N. Global Climate Summit in Bonn, Germany, many countries expressed a commitment to end coal-generated carbon emissions by 2030.
This did not include the U.S., whose top leaders remain committed to the coal industry.
Recovery from a year of devastating hurricanes is slow, and energy debates are quickly heating up to a boiling point. President Trump has announced a new plan to use decommissioned U.S. military facilities for controversial coal shipments. Is this even possible?
More people, especially those living in the recently ravaged Southeastern U.S., are blaming climate change and wondering how they can contribute to positive change. For some, this means opposing dirty coal shipments to Asia. They say this is bad for the U.S. and bad for air quality abroad.
The facts are grim. Air pollution is responsible for killing one million people annually.
Now, the U.N. has released its Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report that spells certain doom if we do not take immediate action to avoid a 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit increase by 2040. Critics of the report say it doesn’t go far enough; but we have less time when we consider various tipping points not factored into the IPCC’s global warming equation.
As popular criticism of coal production increases, there is a concerted effort to clamp down on scientific knowledge about dirty energy’s public health impacts. In the past few days, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has scrapped plans to convene two expert scientific panels on air pollution.
One panel examined fine particulate matter, that is, "microscopic specks of dirt, soot, smoke, and other tiny pollutants." The other examined ozone — "a pollutant that constricts the airways and exacerbates respiratory conditions including asthma, emphysema, and chronic bronchitis."
That’s one way to stop popular education around climate change: silence climate scientists. But that only handles part of the problem. As the nation remains polarized about coal production, Trump still has to keep the extracting and exporting end up. This is why he has turned to the idea of using closed West Coast military bases as coal export ports.
Meanwhile, some West Coast politicians and officials on board with the clean energy agenda have recently rejected private sector efforts to build new coal ports.
Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke announced that continued export of coal and natural gas is a matter of national security; U.S. allies need access to affordable fuel.
He explains: "The Trump administration also has cited national security as justification for keeping domestic coal-burning power plants online to prevent disruptions of electricity supplies."
The Trump administration has set its sights on west coast bases, like the one in the westernmost point of the U.S. in the Aleutian Islands, Adak, which has a population of 300 people. The Adak Naval Air Facility has been closed since 1997, and the Trump administration has pinpointed the location as a place that could "receive fuel by barge from the North Slope."
Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, has already publicly criticized this idea of using old military bases as "reckless" and "hair-brained."
He suggests that this move is not in national security interests, and it: "undermines states' rights to enforce necessary health, safety and environmental protections in their communities... The men and women who serve at our military bases are there to keep our country safe, not to service an export facility for private fossil fuel companies."
These are strong words from a governor whose state, along with California and Oregon, ranks in the top U.S. states for best energy efficiency scores. Massachusetts is No. 1, followed by California.
Blocking coal shipments has been one direct action tactic that clean energy activists use globally. Now, there will be more dissent as the Trump administration plays the national security card to keep coal production flowing.
Big coal production states, like the Carolinas, face massive cleanup of open coal ash pits, which threatened local waterways during Hurricanes Florence and Michael. The hurricanes hit after Trump had already rolled back coal production regulations in the Southeastern U.S.
For some, recent record-breaking hurricanes sound dirty energy’s alarm. Climate deniers disagree, painting any pro-coal industry efforts as valiant national security moves.
Meanwhile, even if we follow the IPCC report’s relatively modest estimates, there’s not much time to roll back damage already done, as the clean energy economy waits in the wings.
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