A coal-mine explosion in China on Oct. 29 is expected to boost coal imports. In order to encourage safety, the government may further curtail coal mining after the death toll from known pit accidents nears 100. China, the world's biggest user of coal, became a net importer of the fuel for the first time just a couple years ago due to safety issues. News of more accidents will bring the demand for coal imports up again.
Meanwhile, a new port has already been planned for Bellingham, Washington, to ramp up traffic of coal to Asia. Formerly admired as a green city, the $500 million marine terminal would make Bellingham a gateway for the fossil fuel world. Up to 18 freight trains are expected to run back and forth on a daily basis, carrying coal to the new port from Wyoming and Montana under the Gateway Pacific Terminal project.
Although environmentalists and many locals are not happy about the thought of noisy, polluting trains running through their city, the project promises some 1,250 permanent jobs and $200 million annually in economic activity. But will it be worth it?
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Climate activist Bill McKibben, founder of the group 350.org, urges the city to block the fuel trade, stating that “Powder River Basin is one of earth's great carbon bombs, and the fuse seems to run through Cherry Point,” Powder River being the Basin of Wyoming and Montana, and Cherry Point the port in Washington.
It wasn't long ago the same city was recognized as one of the only communities in the country to disengage in the use of fossil fuels as a source of energy entirely. With large-scale solar projects and hydroelectric power, Bellingham purchases enough clean power to meet 100 percent of the area's electricity demands, winning the Green Power Leadership Award from the US Environmental Protections Agency in 2008.
Unfortunately, the mode of the economy rules, with unemployment currently at about 9 percent in the city. The new port would provide jobs for up to 4,000 workers over the next two years. It's a hard thing to say no to. People in Washington are hurting and China is going to import the same amount of coal regardless of where it comes from.