Evidence Mounts That Coal Exports Create Jobs With Minimal Environmental Impact

In my continuing series exploring the economic benefits of opening up coal export terminals in the Pacific Northwest, I’ve delved into many of the counter-arguments by environmentalists and found them lacking. It seems pretty clear that exporting coal to other Pacific Rim countries via rail terminals and shipping ports on the West Coast will create jobs and have minimal environmental impact in the process. New reports bolster this claim.

However, this won’t stop radical environmentalists from trying to turn the coal export fight into the latter day Spotted Owl controversy, all in an effort to block developing economies from using fossil fuels to create new wealth and opportunity for their citizens.

Sean Hackbarth has a new article up at FreeEnterprise.com that touts the results of a new study on the impact of jobs created by the free trade of coal:

 A new study by accounting firm Ernst and Young found that exports support tens of thousands of jobs and contribute billions of dollars to the economy.

The report prepared for the National Mining Association found that in 2011 (the most-recent year with complete data available) 18% (25,130) of the jobs in the American coal mining industry were supported by coal exports. Coal exports produced $2.6 billion in labor income and $5.4 billion in economic activity.

The report looks beyond the coal industry. By broadening the analysis to economic activity “generated by purchases from domestic suppliers” and spending from employees in the coal, transportation, exports, and supplier industries, Ernst and Young found that coal exports “contributed 141,270 total direct, indirect, and induced jobs to the U.S. economy” and $16.6 billion to the economy in 2011.

Other highlights from the study include:

  • Coal exports supported 8,850 transportation jobs. Most of these were due to moving coal from mines to ports.
  • Coal exports supported 5,370 jobs at ports.
  • Jobs directly supported by coal export-related industries (mining, transportation, port operations) earned almost 50% more in wages and benefits.

As Hackbarth points out, however, the radical environmental lobby is just getting started. According to the Everett (WA) Daily Herald,

A coalition of environmental groups is asking the federal government to step in and combine the environmental studies for three different coal export terminal proposals into one.

In addition to the Gateway Pacific terminal proposed for Cherry Point near Bellingham, export terminals also are proposed for Longview in southwest Washington and Boardman, Ore., on the Columbia River.

Earthjustice, a Seattle environmental law firm, sent a letter on Wednesday to U.S. Army Corps of Engineers offices in Seattle and Portland.

The letter was signed by 11 environmental groups, including Climate Solutions, National Wildlife Federation, the Sierra Club and the Washington Environmental Council.

The Alliance for Northwest Jobs and Exports, a Seattle-based group of business organizations and others formed to support the export terminals, issued a counterstatement to the environmental groups’ request Wednesday.

“This is a stall tactic, pure and simple,” said Lauri Hennessey, a spokeswoman for the Alliance for Northwest Jobs and Exports.

The enviros went on to cite again the fear that surface street traffic will be disrupted or delayed – a claim that has been repeatedly debunked. In fact, BNSF has calculated that due to the Great Recession, they are still down from their peak capacity usage reached in 2006. In other words, rail traffic still has a long way to go before it’s even going to reach its previous high water mark.

So these coal terminals will create thousands of jobs, will have little environmental impact from coal dust or any other effect, and will not create burdens on surface traffic. This seems like a clear win for the energy industry and for global economic progress.

No wonder the environmentalists hate the idea.

Follow Jeff on Twitter @ChargerJeff.