China and coal

 

THE WEST

Now that China's decided to build one coal-fired power plant every week, corporations like Goldman Sachs have become highly interested in helping the country find black rocks to burn. The Powder River Basin of Wyoming and Montana produces what seems an inexhaustible amount, but there's a hitch (isn't there always?): The coal would have to travel hundreds of miles on trains more than 100-railcars long across wide-open Western landscapes and through congested towns. A handful of towns on the Pacific Coast are being considered for the construction of a new port, and that's created another hitch: If prime candidate Bellingham, Wash., north of Seattle, is chosen, Seattle will be very unhappy. The coal trains would almost certainly lumber through the city before going up the coast, creating additional traffic jams for commuters. A headline from The Stranger sums it up: "Coal trains could delay downtown, SoDo traffic by one to three hours daily." At a press conference, Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn said the coal trains would "create a wall along our waterfront" leading to "more frustration, more bikers, drivers and pedestrians 'shooting the gap' to get across, which means the potential for more accidents." The consulting firm Parametrix predicted that 10-18 coal trains each day would move through Seattle, with each train delaying traffic by roughly five minutes, and delays occurring at unpredictable times 24 hours a day. Seattle City Council member Mike O'Brien summed up the impacts of a major new port and increased rail traffic as "all negative" for the city. "If a project like this goes forward," he added, "our progress (to become carbon neutral by 2050) goes down the drain." Port developers have said that the project's impacts, including coal dust pollution and derailments, will be fully reviewed in order to meet high environmental standards, reports Businessweek.

COLORADO

There's a "quiet crisis" in Colorado, and it's all the fault of people driving energy-efficient cars, reports the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel. "We are at a pretty dramatic tipping point," said Randy Harrison of MOVE Colorado, a group seeking solutions to the problem of underfunded road construction and maintenance. Harrison told a Club 20 meeting of western Colorado counties that electric-car drivers -- who don't have to pay a gas tax -- still need to do their fair share, and he suggested putting transponders on those vehicles so their mileage could be checked and bills automatically sent. "A shipment of all-electric Nissan Leaf vehicles is expected soon in the Republic of Boulder," he warned, and "the rest of us who still drive our Ford 350s" shouldn't have to carry them, the slackers.

Tips and photos of Western oddities are appreciated and often shared in this column. Writebetsym@hcn.org.