Recent Coal Export Trends: Q2 2014

Coal shipments down again nationally, up in the West, led by Seattle.
This post is 15 in the series: Coal Export Trend Reports

Here’s a look at the latest US Department of Energy figures in its quarterly coal export report, which take us up through the second quarter of 2014:

Original Sightline Institute graphic, available under our Free Use Policy.

Original Sightline Institute graphic, available under our Free Use Policy. US coal exports_Q2 2014 (Data from US Energy Information Administration’s Quarterly Coal Report.)

Nationally, coal exports fell again in the second quarter of 2014.

The US exported almost 24.6 million tons of coal in the second three months of the year. It was still a lot by historical standards, but it represented the fifth straight quarterly decline and a  reduction of 35 percent from the industry’s high water mark in the second quarter of 2012.

The Western Customs Region, center stage in the ferocious debate over expansion capacity, remains a minor player in the national coal exports scene, but once more coal shipments there increased a bit. The West Coast exported a little more than 2.6 million tons, 17 percent more than the previous quarter.

Original Sightline Institute graphic, available under our Free Use Policy.

Original Sightline Institute graphic, available under our Free Use Policy. Western coal exports_Q2 2014 (Data from US Energy Information Administration’s Quarterly Coal Report.)

The Seattle District—where the data refer solely to coal traveling north from Washington into British Columbia for onward shipment to Asia—continues to play the biggest role in western coal exports. In this region, coal exports registered an increase to 1.2 million tons.

In its second quarter investment report, Cloud Peak Energy claimed responsibility for 1.0 million tons of coal exported to Asia by way of BC’s Westshore Terminal, implying that Cloud Peak coal accounts for the vast majority of the coal moving through Seattle en route to Canada for export.

The big coal export story in the west was in California where shipments out of the Los Angeles District (from LAXT at Long Beach) and San Francisco District (from the Port of Stockton and the Levin-Richmond Terminal) fell by 12 percent and 19 percent, respectively. By contrast, coal exports from the Anchorage District (referring to the Seward Coal Loading Facility) jumped back up to more than 250,000 tons.

Please note that there are serious questions about the accuracy of the official government coal export numbers. For more about these inconsistencies, see this post.


All figures in this post are given in short tons unless otherwise noted. All of my reporting on quarterly coal export volumes can be found in the series “Coal Export Trend Reports.” All data come from the US EIA’s latest quarterly coal report, covering the entire Western Customs Region. In addition to the districts shown on the chart here, the Western Region includes the Portland, Honolulu, Nogales, and San Diego Districts. These districts have been reporting virtually no coal exports. Please note that the second chart shows Customs Districts, not individual ports; the Port of Seattle does not move coal.

Thanks to Pam MacRae for research assistance.

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Weekend Reading 10/31/14

What is heroism?; bike-friendly Halloween costumes; and more.
This post is 178 in the series: Weekend Reading


In case you missed it, Brentin Mock has a (heartbreaking) tribute in Grist about 15-year-old George Carter III, killed recently in New Orleans. George was deeply involved with a remarkable student-driven group called The Rethinkers. He spoke of the power of gardens, real food, and nature to make a difference in kids’ lives under the toughest circumstances; there is some lasting power and resonance in his story that deserves to be shared. The New Orleans Times-Picayune has more on Carter here.


I mentioned that the City of Yakima is pushing a proposed homeless shelter into a warehouse district. An update: the city has passed an emergency moratorium on shelters to stop a local nonprofit from using an old convenience store as one. The council had previously used emergency moratoria only for pot shops, porn shops, and bikini baristas.

What is heroism? The answer came to me this week from a good friend of Sightline, who shared with me the following note, which he had received from a doctor friend of his. The doctor recently retired to Colorado from twenty-plus years fighting AIDS in Uganda and training African doctors. Read more »

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The #1 Question from Progressives about Revenue-Neutral Carbon Taxes

It’s déjà vu all over again.
This post is 19 in the series: Cashing In Our Carbon

Last time, I shared the #1 question from conservatives about revenue-neutral carbon taxes like the Carbon Washington proposal to implement a BC-style carbon tax and use the revenue to cut sales taxes and business taxes:

How do you know it’s going to stay revenue-neutral?

This time I’d like to share with you the #1 question from progressives about revenue-neutral carbon taxes:

How do you know it’s going to stay revenue-neutral?

It’s the same question! The motivations for asking the question, of course, are different. Conservatives ask because they’re worried about government getting bigger, that is, when we compare revenues from the existing tax system X with revenues from a potential new tax system Y, they want to make sure that X ≥ Y. Progressives ask because they’re worried about government getting smaller, that is, they want to make sure that X ≤ Y. Read more »

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The #1 Question from Conservatives about Revenue-Neutral Carbon Taxes

And my stab at an answer.
This post is 18 in the series: Cashing In Our Carbon

I give a lot of talks about revenue-neutral carbon taxes—especially the Carbon Washington proposal to implement a BC-style carbon tax and use the revenue to cut sales taxes and business taxes. The question that is far and away the #1 question asked by conservatives is:

How do you know it’s going to stay revenue-neutral? It sounds all well and good to combine a carbon tax with dollar-for-dollar reductions in sales taxes and business taxes, but the legislature will just raise the sales tax back up, so pretty soon we’ll get stuck with both taxes.

I have two responses, one for realists and one for cynics. Read more »


We’re in this together: Sightline’s fall fund drive is on!

Your investment in a sustainable future.
Fall Fund Drive

As a Sightline reader, you are well informed about the challenges that the Northwest faces in the journey toward health, safety, and sustained prosperity for all. Perhaps you’d like to make a difference, but are unsure about where to begin. At times, sustainability matters and policy choices can seem like colossal burdens in the journey to a happy, healthy planet. To begin can seem a tremendous act.

Luckily, we are in this together, and donating to Sightline is an easy way to help!

For the next two weeks we’re asking our friends, readers (that’s you), and subscribers to make a financial contribution in order to sustain our research, analysis, and news service.

Will you support Sightline’s quest for a sustainable future? Join us now and make a secure online gift in support of our fall fund drive. Read more »

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Let’s Take the Education Debate Outdoors

Deeper learning can start in the woods.

The McCleary decision! High-stakes testing! Common Core!

In the Northwest’s raging and incessant debate about education funding, testing, and standards, the question of what gets taught is never far from center stage. A growing network of schools and reformers starts from the premise that 21st century challenges from economic globalization to climate change call less for content mastery than for a set of abilities that group loosely around “learning how to learn.”

The emerging field of “Deeper Learning” seeks to shift educators’ focus from “teaching to the test” to helping children learn to think, communicate, collaborate, and initiate. School districts across Cascadia and beyond face the challenge of how to retool classrooms and educators to impart these 21st century skills.

One of the best ways to deliver Deeper Learning, though, requires no classroom walls at all. Hands-on learning about nature, in nature, switches children into a discovery mode: the place where deeper learning happens. Read more »

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Four Carbon Cap-Tax Hybrids

Getting creative with carbon limits (Part 1).
This post is 17 in the series: Cashing In Our Carbon

A tax and a cap are just different vehicles for delivering the same thing: a carbon price that holds polluters responsible for their pollution, drives the transition to clean energy, and staves off the worst risks of climate volatility. With a tax, you know the price in advance but not the quantity of carbon pollution per year; with a cap, you know the carbon but not the price.

Could Oregon and Washington create a cap-tax hybrid that is custom-made for the Pacific Northwest’s unique circumstances, culture, and economy? Northwesterners are down-to-earth and pragmatic, resilient through changing conditions. A Northwestern climate policy should be the same: taking the best aspects of what has come before (BC’s tax and California’s cap) and hybridizing them into a robust policy that can ride out the rainy days.

This article, the first of three about variations on carbon pricing, describes not just one but four cap-tax hybrids that could fit the Northwest like a fleece vest. Read more »


Weekend Reading 10/24/14

A "subdivide" suggestion, getting at "the good life," and more.
This post is 177 in the series: Weekend Reading


A passionate and surprisingly plausible argument that “douchebag” is that unheard of epithets: a slur used to delegitimize white males.

Affordable owner-occupied housing inside city limits? Hard to come by in Cascadia’s big cities, especially in Vancouver, BC, where bungalows commonly list for $1.2 million. But what if we allowed divided ownership in single-family zones? Patrick Condon dares speak the “subdivide” word in The Tyee.

Split that average home into smaller more affordable parts. Currently subdividing homes into separate ownerships is prohibited in RS-1 zoned areas, and RS-1 zoning covers over 60 per cent of all residential lands in the city. But if you could split a single family bungalow in Killarney or Dunbar into five units of various sizes, the purchase price would be, in simplified terms, $250,000. A figure much more approachable for families earning the average wage.


I made a video about how pursuing human well-being, rather than stuff, can make us happier and also avoid global catastrophe. Yay!

Sometimes I wish Elon Musk would expend more of his brilliance on helping us get our act together here on earth instead of trying to colonize Mars. More of his brain and money on Tesla type moon shots, less on actual Mars shots. But I respect that he has a mission to make humans an inter-galactic species. Read more »

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Jury-Rigging Democracy

Better information to limit Big Money’s initiative power.
This post is 10 in the series: What Democracy Looks Like

“The best argument against democracy,” Winston Churchill reportedly said, “is a five-minute conversation with the average voter.” Watching native-born Americans belly flop on a citizenship test suggests Churchill wasn’t far wrong.

But what about a week-long conversation? Worse? Actually, no.

An intriguing model of citizen participation in Oregon suggests that prolonged conversations with voters—or, conversations among voters—can dramatically improve democracy. The model is based on the jury: the panel of disinterested voters, operating under strict rules of procedure, presented with arguments and evidence, and left to apply their judgment to a case.

What an independent, nonpartisan Oregon group called Healthy Democracy has begun doing, with the sanction of state government, is to submit pending ballot measures to quasi-jury trials and then publish the results in the voters’ pamphlet. What’s so intriguing is that Oregon voters are starting to pay special heed to the one-page verdicts of these mock trials. In fact, before long, such juries could hold more sway than millions of dollars in campaign cash.

Oregon’s Citizens’ Initiative Reviews (CIRs) are perhaps the brightest light in the constellation of reforms to the initiative process that I’ve been mapping in this set of articles. And paradoxically, they do nothing to stem the tide of Big Money (after all, SCOTUS won’t let us). Instead, they just aim to make money matter less. Read more »


Washington State Traffic Forecast Finally Recognizes Reality

Does Washington's new road forecast spell the end of "build now, pay later"?
This post is 47 in the series: Dude, Where Are My Cars?

This is far and away the most responsible official traffic forecast I’ve seen from any government agency, ever:

It’s from a new transportation revenue forecast (pdf link, see p. 27) recently published by the Washington State Office of Financial Management. Their forecast from last September, in pink, assumed that traffic would grow endlessly, much as it did during the 1950s through 1990s. But the new forecast, in blue, assumes that the modest traffic growth of the past decade will continue, and will then be followed by a slight decline.

There are two reasons why this forecast is such a refreshing change. First, it reflects the growing empirical evidence of a long-term slowdown in the growth of vehicle travel, evident on major roads in Washington, for Washington State roads as a whole, for the US, and for much of the industrialized world.

Second, even if the forecast is wrong, assuming that traffic won’t grow much is the most fiscally prudent way to plan a transportation budget. Read more »