‘Polite’ coal discussion a refreshing change
By Rob Smith
Rob Smith is editor of the Portland Business Journal.
There was no shouting. No harsh disagreement. No nasty verbal swipes. Information, not emotion, ruled the day at Lewis and Clark’s coal export symposium.
I moderated a discussion yesterday organized by students from the college’s Law School called “Northwest Coal Exports: Making Cents of the Environmental Cost.”
Both organizers and panelists openly wondered how contentious the event would be. Organizers restricted audience questions and asked for respect.
That happened, though the discussion was certainly animated, if predictable.
Liz Fuller, director of client services for Portland’s Gard Communications, represented Ambre Energy, which is seeking approval to build an enclosed, $242 million coal-export terminal at the Port of Morrow. She stressed the economic impact of the proposal, which would create more than 2,100 construction jobs and 1,000 ongoing operations jobs, as well as a $300 million impact after the full build-out.
Opponents were Bob Jenks, executive director of the Citizens Utility Board — which represents residential ratepayers — and Brett VandenHeuvel, executive director of Columbia River Keeper, an organization concerned about water quality on the Columbia River.
Both stressed the shortsightedness of creating a coal-export pipeline at a time when coal use in the U.S. is declining. They also raised questions about CO2 emissions, global warming and rail congestion.
Even Fuller admitted that coal wasn’t a long-term strategy, though it could be viable for decades.
Something we didn’t get to, at least in depth, was this: How would coal-exporting — there are currently six active proposals in the Pacific Northwest — mesh with Oregon’s green reputation? What would that mean to businesses?
Still, after all the highly charged discussions around the issue (my inbox is cluttered every day with strongly worded missives) it was satisfying to be involved in an intelligent, intellectual debate about a significant aspect of Oregon’s economic future.
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