The decision creates losers and winners. In the long run, making the transition to cleaner fuels will prevent all of us from becoming losers.

Share story

Millennium Bulk Terminals hoped to build a terminal at Longview, on the Columbia River. It was to be the largest coal-export terminal on the West Coast, and the company promised a $680 million investment in Cowlitz County and $5.4 million in state and local taxes.

That ambition appears dashed by the Washington Department of Ecology turning down a water permit required in order to fill 24 acres of wetlands and dredge more than 41 acres of the Columbia riverbed. The decision was denounced by the company, as well as business and labor groups. It might still be overturned, perhaps even with the intervention of the fossil-fuels-obsessed Trump administration.

But for now, the economic losers will be Millennium, potential new jobs in Longview — the unemployment rate in Cowlitz County was 5.6 percent in August — state trade numbers, and railroads hoping to haul Powder River coal for export to Asia. To be sure, the terminal would have created only 300 ongoing operations jobs. Most of the promised jobs (2,650) would have been construction. Millennium built a swanky website promoting the project.

What’s interesting about the Department of Ecology order is that it never utters the words “greenhouse gases” or “carbon.” The agency found enough on a narrow review of the project to halt it. But the heart of the matter is keeping as much carbon in the ground as possible if we’re to avoid the worst of human-caused climate change. The Seattle area’s hottest, driest summer on record is only one of thousands of warning signs. The economic costs of inaction will be enormous.

The economic benefits of action are, however, enormous, from building renewable energy and green tech to high-speed rail, rebuilding and electrifying our conventional passenger and freight rail, and building rail transit. It’s easy to lay out the short-term displacements of making the transition, harder to show the long-term costs of doing nothing or benefits of acting.

For now, again, a state is in the forefront of fighting climate change. Too bad for Millennium that a red state doesn’t have a Pacific port. For the planet? The upside is priceless.


Today’s Econ Haiku:

On Bombardier

Wilbur’s steep airplane tariffs

Mean trade bombs away