Sierra Daily: December 2013

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3 posts from December 2013

Dec 10, 2013

Another One Bites the Dust

Coal shipAll that coal and nowhere to go. Last month, my colleague Paul Rauber wrote about the slate of candidates in Whatcom County, Washington, recently elected to defeat a proposed coal-export terminal in the northwest corner of the Evergreen State. Now Lone Star State activists are beaming that a proposed coal export terminal in Corpus Christi has been ditched -- due to a “seriously diminished” international interest in coal, aka music to an anti-coal-activist’s ears.

According to the Port of Corpus Christ (as reported by Climate Progress), “Currently the export coal market has shrunk substantially. The domestic market has seen older coal fired power plants closed with some being refitted to burn natural gas. Wind and solar power driven by regulatory incentives have created additional pressure on coal. The enthusiasm for export terminals among coal producers has diminished.” Climate Progress notes that this is the fourth time this year that a proposed coal export terminal has been canceled; the list includes two proposals in Oregon and another in Corpus Christi.

Three more coal-export proposals in the Pacific Northwest as well as one in Louisiana are still on the table, all with vocal opposition. It turns out that not many Americans want to be at the tail end of a rail line leading from coal mines in the Rocky Mountain states to ocean ports. As noted in a 2012 Sierra Club report on coal-export development in Texas, “According to BNSF, one of the railroad companies involved in transporting coal, an average of 500 pounds of coal dust and chunks can escape from a single loaded rail car in transit. Each coal train contains over 100 rail cars, which means over the course of one trip from Wyoming to Texas, 50,000 pounds, or 25 tons, of coal dust would escape from rail cars onto the ground and possibly into surface and ground water. Coal dust has been linked to chronic bronchitis, emphysema, pulmonary fibrosis (pneumoconiosis), and environmental contamination through the leaching of toxic heavy metals.”

“Texans don’t want coal, Gulf states don’t want coal and international markets don’t want it either,” Hal Suter, chair of the Club’s Lone Star Chapter and a Corpus Christi resident, told Public Citizen.

Image by Freezingtime/iStock.

HS_ReedMcManusReed McManus is a senior editor at Sierra. He has worked on the magazine since Ronald Reagan’s second term. For inspiration, he turns to cartoonist R. Crumb’s Mr. Natural, who famously noted: “Twas ever thus.”


Why Did Ronald Reagan Save the World?

Readers of a certain age will recall that Ronald Reagan was not much of an environmentalist. Concerning the establishment of Redwood National Park, for example, he famously remarked: "A tree is a tree. How many more do you have to look at?" 

But yesterday in the New York Times, Justin Gillis wrote about the curious history and remarkable success of the Montreal Protocol to save the planet's ozone layer:

Here is a remarkable fact about global warming: It might be twice as bad right now were it not for a treaty negotiated by a conservative American president, for an entirely different purpose, based on motives no one has ever quite understood.

The treaty banned the refrigerants known as chlorofluorocarbons, which, in addition to destroying the ozone layer that protects us from dangerous radiation, turn out to be incredibly powerful greenhouse gases. Montreal was a big success on both counts, but Gillis reveals that no one is quite sure why Reagan backed the treaty. 

Mr. Reagan, with his zeal for deregulation and his conservative business principles, might have been expected to fight the idea of a global treaty. That is exactly what many of his closest aides wanted him to do. In the end, he rejected their advice and backed it, vigorously.

Why? One idea is that Mr. Reagan himself had had skin cancer, and allowed a concern for public health to triumph over ideology. Eli Lehrer, the head of a Washington think tank called the R Street Institute and a longtime Reagan admirer, offered me a simpler theory: that the man truly loved nature. He was never happier than when riding horses and chopping wood. Perhaps the science of the ozone hole just spooked him.

Elderly Sierra Club members may be skeptical, but he did spend an awful lot of time at that ranch. Perhaps the man who appointed the notorious James Watt as Interior Secretary was a nature boy himself after all. 

PAUL RAUBER is a senior editor at Sierra. He is the author, with Carl Pope, of the happily outdated Strategic Ignorance: Why the Bush Administration Is Recklessly Destroying a Century of Environmental Progress.Otherwise he is a cyclist, cook, and father of two. Follow him on Twitter @paulrauber

Dec 03, 2013

Rampaging Moose!


What do you do if a large moose is charging you in deep powder? In the case of the skiers in the video below, shot in Gaspesia, Quebec, the answer is not very much, although clearly their options are pretty limited. Sierra can, however, offer some professional advice should you find yourself in the middle of a moose tête-à-tête, as happened to runner Sallie Shatz in Utah's Wasatch mountains. This advice from Matt Heid, author of the Appalachian Mountain Club's Best Backpacking Trips in New England.

"If a moose approaches you, it's generally trying to drive you off because it sees you as a threat. In most situations, retreat immediately."

Sadly, advice on moose encounters is at risk of becoming arcane, as moose populations in North America are in steep decline. The precise reason is not clear, although climate change is the most likely culprit.

Note: The first minute of the video is useful mainly for brushing up on your French. Otherwise you can safely skip ahead. 


PAUL RAUBER is a senior editor at Sierra. He is the author, with Carl Pope, of the happily outdated Strategic Ignorance: Why the Bush Administration Is Recklessly Destroying a Century of Environmental Progress.Otherwise he is a cyclist, cook, and father of two. Follow him on Twitter @paulrauber

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