Guest writer Sandy Robson submitted this article, which includes some fine research.
When Wyoming’s governor, Matt Mead, visited Longview, Washington, on June 3 to advocate for the proposed Millennium Bulk Terminals at Longview (MBTL), there was plenty of news coverage in both states before and after his visit.
However, very few people heard about the May 14 journey to Gillette, Wyoming by business and labor leaders as well as elected officials from Washington state. Their two-day trip included tours of Cloud Peak Energy’s Cordero Rojo Mine, Basin Electric’s Dry Fork Power Plant, Wyoming Senator John Hine’s (R-Gillette) ranch, Gillette College Educational Center, and Campbell County Recreational Center. In fact, a tour brochure outlined every step of their trip, and listed all the Washington and Wyoming participants.
To make sure they were well fed with both food and pro-coal information, they were treated to dinners featuring speakers from SSA Marine, BNSF, MBTL, and Cloud Peak Energy — all of which have an urgent need for proposed coal terminals to be approved and built. Gateway Pacific Terminal (GPT) in Whatcom County, WA, and MBTL in Longview, WA, would handle, store, and export 48 million tons and 44 million tons of coal respectively.
Wyoming Governor Matt Mead and Gillette Mayor John Opseth invited the Washington delegation. The pro-coal trip was courtesy of the state of Wyoming. The elected officials from Washington state were: three county commissioners: Mike Karnofski (Cowlitz County), Rick Miller (Franklin County), and Jean Ryckman (Pasco County); two mayors: Ron Onslow (Ridgefield) and Sean Guard (Washougal); one State Representative: Paul Harris (R-District 17, Vancouver); and four city council members: Ken Botero (Longview), Bill Turlay (Vancouver), Al Yenney (Pasco), and Ray Minor (Connell).
In addition to these state and community leaders, Bellinghamsters John Huntley and Brad Owens, co-chairs of the Northwest Jobs Alliance (NWJA), were also part of this delegation. For readers who don’t already know, NWJA is a marketing arm for the proposed GPT, consisting solely of a facebook page created in May 2011. It lists www.gatewaypacificterminal.com as its website address, and the phone number listed on the facebook page does not work.
Brad Owens is a business representative for the local International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW)191. John Huntley has owned Bellingham’s Mills Electric since 2007. In GPT’s May 29 promotional post on the IBEW 191 website, Huntley says of the trip, “When it comes to coal dust, at least in Wyoming it is a myth.” He continues, “We toured the surface mines by bus to see the operations first-hand and did not see any coal dust. We visited a coal-fired power plant where you could eat off of the floors because they were so clean and there were no visible emissions coming from the stacks.”
While Huntley claims he saw no visible emissions from the stacks at the Dry Fork Power Plant, according to an October 7, 2013 Casper Star-Tribune article, “Even the 2-year-old Dry Fork Station north of Gillette emits about 2,100 pounds of CO2 per megawatt hour. Power plant owner Basin Electric touts the plant as one of the cleanest coal-fired power plants in the U.S.” The article also reported that most coal-fired plants in Wyoming, including the Dry Fork plant which has only been in operation for two years, emit carbon dioxide at a much higher rate than the EPA’s proposed federal limit (at the time of the article).
Huntley also said, “One of the most impressive things that I watched is the land being reclaimed after mining was over.”
Yet ClimateCentral.org, an independent organization of scientists and journalists researching and reporting on changing climate and its impact, disagrees. A January 19, article states, “Coal companies tout the success of reclamation. BLM regulations require performance bonds and say mined areas must be restored to ‘approximate original contours’ with water and habitat in healthy condition.
“But the Western Organization of Resource Councils, a nonprofit fighting coal development, analyzed BLM reports and found otherwise: ‘Coal mining has disturbed more than 162,000 acres of land in Wyoming,’ the group wrote, ‘but only 4 percent of this land has gained final reclamation status’ with full restoration and legal release from the bond.”
The article also reported that Wyoming rancher L.J. Turner, whose family has owned their 10,000-acre ranch since 1918, says streams on his ranch now dry up in the summer except for spring holes. He reports fish, beaver, mink, and muskrats (aquatic and semi-aquatic animals) are mostly gone.
“From Antelope Creek north to Gillette, all the aquifers are being cut by mines. Water upstream is draining away.” Turner further explained that the aquifer is about 90-100 feet deep, so when sliced open by blasting and power shovels, water collects in the bottom of the mines. Some of it is pumped out, some used for wetting mine roads or other mining uses. But for the rancher, Turner says, “It’s just gone.”
Turner’s wife, Karen, says her biggest concern is water. “There’s not enough of it now, and it’s dirty. We drink bottled water because our water smells like hydrogen sulfide, and it didn’t used to.”
On his return from Wyoming, Longview City Council member Ken Botero compiled a report about the tour to share with fellow council members. In it, Botero speaks highly of the facilities and services Campbell County’s leaders have provided their communities, which he believes provide for a positive economy for their communities. There is no mention of any adverse impacts of the mining and/or transportation of Wyoming’s coal on those communities: impacts to water supply and quality; air quality; agricultural land; and endangered species in the area. There are also adverse impacts from a large increase in coal train traffic and the blasting operations at coal-mines.
Meanwhile, one has to wonder why there has been no press coverage of this tour by the Washington state delegation. The only mention so far is the May 29 GPT promotional bulletin on the IBEW 191 website. News coverage of the Wyoming trip would have revealed the sales campaign of the coal industry and companies behind the proposed Washington coal terminals. Our local press has a responsibility to alert potentially imperiled communities to the war being waged on us by the coal industry’s money-motivated representatives.