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Local View: Millennium: Local coal terminal will enhance region

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Published: November 15, 2015, 6:00am

Recently, The Columbian challenged a few key aspects of the Millennium Bulk Terminals project in Longview.

The editorial claims that replacing a defunct aluminum smelter, which sits next to an existing timber mill and across Industrial Way from a chemical plant, with the proposed coal export facility would lead to “industrial blight” and a diminished regional quality of life. This claim reveals a fundamental lack of understanding about planning and growth management.

Millennium sits on a former industrial site that, for generations, has been designated, zoned and used for heavy industry. Since taking over in 2011, we’ve removed over a quarter-million tons of unpermitted material from the site (recycling about 65 percent), restored a local fish habitat, and kept dozens of our neighbors employed along the way. The river channel is already deepened to allow ocean-going transport, and the rail spur has long been in place.

Unfortunately, the editorial continues with misinformation that is a disservice to the public conversation about Millennium. But it got one thing right. This is a question of quality of life.

For millions of people in developing nations, coal remains the main viable source of electricity. Some homes are lit by a single light bulb — this is a “quality of life” we would never accept. There will not be enough power from renewable energy to meet basic needs in Asia for decades. These countries continue burning coal because it is the most available energy source they have, and because it allows them to pursue a quality of life we already enjoy.

For the millions of us in developed countries, reliable sources of electricity are essential to support healthy economies. Coal is still used throughout the developed world for substantial portions of electric baseload. The coal we export will go to our allies, Japan and South Korea. These important trading partners import 96 percent of their energy supply. As the fastest route to our partners in Asia, we hold a unique opportunity to export real “quality of life.”

We know that quality of life matters here in Southwest Washington, too. Without jobs to support families, “quality of life” quickly evaporates. Longview is a town built for industry and trade; the failure to regenerate family-wage jobs profoundly threatens our quality of life.

The proposed world-class terminal will add 2,650 direct and indirect jobs during construction that will boost the community and contribute to the state’s trade economy. With unemployment still high in rural Washington, it would be short-sighted to reject a $680 million private investment that will expand vital infrastructure and increase local employment.

Japan is weaning itself off nuclear energy and building 10 new coal-fired power plants with the most efficient technology available. South Korea has one of the newest, cleanest coal-burning plants in the world. These countries are making the decision to use coal for the benefit and security of their people, regardless of what we do in the United States. Would you deny these Asian democracies their energy security?

Disappointingly, the paper’s editorial repeats an echo-chamber of unsubstantiated claims regarding coal dust and a misguided sense of environmental superiority. This is not a winning strategy in an important policy debate that deserves a more inclusive conversation.

And as to claims about dust, American coal has rolled through Washington towns in railcars for decades without note. Independent studies confirm the lack of coal dust. The reality is that Washington’s export terminals provide the best option for secure, reliable coal, conveyed safely, to ensure a better “quality of life” for everyone, at home and abroad.

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