Warren E. Buffett has long been an example of a 'good guy' capitalist, because his Berkshire-Hathaway mega-corporation has made tons of money for investors without the common evils of the fascist oligarchs -- think Mitt Romney and Bain Capital Ventures -- such as off-shoring jobs and profits, draining employee pension funds, closing viable factories and-or towns, and ripping off investors. Nor has Buffett spent billions lobbying against clean-air standards, shrinking education, and suppressing the vote, like the Koch Brothers continue to do.
Many wondered why Buffett and Berkshire-Hathaway paid a steep price for the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad in November 2009 -- the stock was around $75/share, the offer was around $100/share. People figured that Buffett had some plan, that his record is such that he knows what he is doing, we all should watch closely and learn from the 'Wizard of Omaha'.
Well, recent events have provided a shape to Buffett's plan, and unless stopped, Buffett's new project will double pollution from coal on the planet in the next few years.
The Powder River Basin in Wyoming & Montana contains one of the largest deposits of coal in the world. 'PRB' coal currently supplies 40% of the fuel for electric power plants east of the Rockies, but as coal plants are replaced by natural gas, the market is rapidly shrinking. So the coal industry decided to sell coal to China, which has no pollution standards and little natural gas resources. China is bringing online a newly-completed coal-fired power plant every week.
The Union Pacific and BNSF railroad lines run north and west thru the Powder River Basin toward the old Northern Pacific transcontinental route that runs west to Seattle and Puget Sound. Hauling the coal to the Pacific Ocean for trans-shipment to China looks so simple.
Long way to go, though. And a Very Bad Idea, mostly having to do with pollution here in the U.S.A.
You have seen the recent news visuals of the pollution in China's interior cities reaching readings of ten times the level allowed by United Nations air quality standards. We can't do anything about their smog, not even when the dirt-clouds in China float across the Pacific Ocean and make the skies of California and Arizona and Washington State and British Columbia turn brown.
The first pollution problem here in the U.S.A. is already occuring during rail transport. Doubling and tripling coal traffic by rail will also double and triple the pollution along the rail lines. Coal is transported in uncovered hopper cars. According to recent BNSF testimony, each loaded rail car loses from 500 to 3,500 pounds of coal dust per trip. The two daily coal trains to Puget Sound run about 120 cars, so anywhere from 120,000 to 840,000 pounds of coal dust are deposited along the rail lines - every day. Divide by the roughly 1,200 miles of travel, and that is 70 pounds of pollution per mile - every day. The proposed Gateway Pacific coal port will add 18 train trips per day, and if the Longview facility is approved, that will add another 14 trains per day.
Warren Buffet's railroad is planning to deliver as much 12,000 pounds of toxic coal dust over each mile of rail line, each and every day for the next twenty years. That is six tons of pollution daily to every mile, including farmer's fields, school yards & playgrounds, running streams, back yard clotheslines, pristine wetlands, and sparkling white country churches.
The second pollution problem here in the U.S.A. is at the planned port facilities. The Gateway Pacific Terminal at Cherry Point near the Canadian border would be twice the size of the largest existing coal port in North America. Gateway's plans for mitigating the coal dust problem is to dampen the acre-sized million-ton piles of coal with water from the Nooksack River, without mentioning that the dirty water will flow back into the river and into Bellingham Bay, and in any case not help at all on windy days.
And all this is predicated on no accidents or environmental disasters whatsoever.
The proposed $643 million Millennium Bulk Terminals coal-export facility is at Longview, Washington - fifty miles up the Columbia River. The proposed coal-export facility at Point Morrow in Oregon is 250 miles farther up the Columbia River; ocean-going vessels cannot reach Port Morrow, so the plan is to load the coal from railcar to river barge, mosey downriver to Port St. Helens (25 miles upriver from Longview) and transfer to bulk cargo vessels bound for China.
Adding 400 boat visits per year and untold barge trips up and down the Columbia River per day is no concern of Peabody Coal, the railroads, or the terminal operators. (Pacific International Terminals is owned by Carrix, which is 49% owned by Goldman Sachs; Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway owns 6% of Goldman Sachs.)
But environmentalists are quite concerned, and calculate that building and operating the three proposed West Coast coal export facilities will add 200 million tons of CO2 to Earth's atmosphere each year, which is roughly equivalent to all the carbon-dioxide emissions of all the volcanoes on the planet.
Warren Buffett will soon be a world-class polluter, and his days as a capitalist 'good guy' are over.Copyright 2014 by G.E. Nordell, all rights reserved