Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Whatcom County Exceptionalism

In my last blog posting, I talked about “three facts” relating to the Gateway Pacific coal terminal project at Cherry Point. After I posted it, I realized that I had left out the most important fact of all:

If the coal terminal is built out to its full capacity to handle 48 million metric tons of coal, we’d be Number One. The biggest coal export terminal in North America.

If coal export were the Super Bowl, we’d get the Vince Lombardi Trophy. If coal were a song, Whatcom County would go platinum. If coal were anything other than coal, the project sponsors would be sending out press releases: Whatcom County will be Number One!

But coal is –

--coal. Lumps of dirty stuff that you burn. Or rather, that they burn in China, but that Washington is trying not to, any more.

What made me think about our potential coal port exceptionalism was the statement at the end of this article: “The proposed [Cherry Point] facility would be twice the size of the largest coal shipping terminal on North America's West Coast, Westshore in Vancouver, British Columbia.”

Twice the size, I thought. Really? And if Westshore is merely the largest “on the West Coast,” where is the Very Biggest Coal Port of All?

I thought that would be easy to find out. I thought that a Google search would take me to a nice list of coal ports in a matter of seconds. It didn’t work that way. But what happened was even more interesting – I wound up in the middle of a bunch of article from Coal Age, an on-line version of a trade journal.

I love trade journals. I love it when they try to use colorful language. What could be more lyrical than this description of the forces opposing increased coal export facilities on the west coast?

“[Peabody Energy and Arch Coal] will have to win a fierce and potentially defining regulatory battle to build the ports as legions of enraged enviro-zealots gird their hemp-laced loins at the thought of dirty American coal being sent to even dirtier Asian power plants across the blue sea.”

If Hemingway were writing about coal, isn’t that what he’d say?

Well, no.

But what I like even more about trade journals is their hard-headed view of the world, which makes them a great source of information and insights. I’m going to blog about what I learned from Coal Age someday.

In the meantime, though, where is the Biggest North American Coal Port of All?

Representing Canada, the contender is:

Westshore: 29 million metric tons per year, according to its website. (So Cherry Point wouldn’t be twice as big. Only 1.7 times as big.)

Representing the United States is:

Hampton Roads, Newport News, Virgina: 32 million metric tons, according to this article in Coal Age.

The Westshore figure didn’t have a date. Maybe it’s outdated, and the foxy Canadians have out-coaled us. But based on 2010 figures, at least, the American champion and still All-North-American Largest Coal Port is. . .Hampton Roads.

The Cherry Point terminal would be one and a half times bigger. Thanks to Whatcom County, the title of “largest coal exporting facility” would stay here in the United States. Take that, Canada!

What does the largest coal port in North America look like? Here are some pictures.

What does the second-largest coal port in North America look like? Here are some pictures.

What will our future look like, when we’re Number One?

Well, one thing that we know is that there will be more coal.


  1. Any trade journal that refers to "hemp-laced loins" is worth a good read. Hello new favorite phrase.

  2. I think that you meant to say "Vince LombardI". He is the football coach who said, "Winning isn't everything, it's the only thing" and "Show me a good loser and I will show you a loser". His relentless focus upon victory removed the last vestige of sportsmanship from football and turned it into big business. How you played the game - by doing your best - was no longer of any value. For Vince Lombardi, it was necessary to win, always. This is the same shot-sighted attitude that plows salt into the ground of an enemy defeated in battle. It is the same short-sighted attitude that promotes continuous economic growth at whatever cost to the natural environment. It is the same short-sighted attitude that has brought us to the brink.

  3. Typo corrected. Thanks, David.

    To connect these two comments -- we can surmise that Vince Lombardi's loins weren't hemp-laced.

  4. New York's Mayor Michael Bloomberg, on the other hand, just hemp-laced to the tune of $50 million, with his donation to the Beyond Coal campaign. This was his reason, according to this article (

    “Coal is a self-inflicted public health risk, polluting the air we breathe, adding mercury to our water, and the leading cause of climate disruption.”

  5. The adverb "hemp-lacingly" is underused, in my opinion.

  6. Dear Jean,
    I want to be an enviro-zealot. Do I have to get my loins hemp-laced?
    Anxious in Bellingham

  7. You know, Phil, I'm beginning to think that hemp-lacing of loins is an opportunity for some Bellingham entrepeneur. Job creation based on environmentalism. I'm not sure what zoning category would be appropriate, though.

  8. Re: Jean's question about zoning...

    Ag would seem to be most appropriate... hemp already appears to be one of the couty's major crops but, Commercial Forestry works as well. Most of the "crop" appears to be raised in that zone.

  9. I think that Jack is trying to bust a funny by invoking the common misperception that industrial hemp is the same thing as cannabis. As that reliable source, Wikipedia, points out, "Typically, hemp contains below 0.3% THC, while cultivars of Cannabis grown for marijuana can contain anywhere from 6 to over 20%."

    I wasn't so much thinking about the production of hemp fiber -- most hemp is grown in China, so we've lost out on that agricultural sector because our government hasn't read Wikipedia -- as the zoning for the hemp-lacing process. It sounds vaguely "adult," although I don't know for sure. Whether Jack believes it or not, I own no hemp attire.