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2014 Update: Grading Economics Textbooks on Climate Change

Good progress in economics textbooks' climate discussions

With a new school year approaching, this is a good time to update our review of the treatment of climate change in economics textbooks. As in our 2010 and 2012 reviews, some books hit the mark while others are wildly misleading, but we’re happy to say that there’s plenty of good news, especially at the top and the bottom of the grade distribution. The report card is below, with the full report available here: Care to comment? The report is also featured on our blog.  

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Unfair Market Value

By Ignoring Exports, BLM Underprices Federal Coal

Coal companies operating in the western United States purchase much of their coal through federal coal leasing programs operated by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), which allow private coal companies to mine and sell coal owned by the American public. Although a growing share of federal coal is exported to overseas customers, the BLM has almost completely ignored the value of export sales when determining the minimum price it will accept for federally owned coal. The failure to assess the economics of coal exports has led the agency to systematically underprice coal owned by the American public, potentially leading to millions of dollars in foregone revenue each year. This report documents cases in which coal companies have purchased low-cost federal coal, and then resold it overseas at much higher prices. It also documents examples of coal companies that have clearly stated their intention to export even more federal coal in the future. Read more »

The Dirt on Tesoro

Tesoro is a bad neighbor to Northwest communities.

The oil company Tesoro, a fast-growing Fortune 100 company, has announced plans to build and operate a massive oil shipping facility on the Columbia River in Washington. The Vancouver Energy Distribution Terminal would handle up to 360,000 barrels of crude per day, transferring petroleum from mile-long trains onto oil tankers and other vessels that would ship the oil to refineries in the US and potentially overseas. Many residents of Vancouver, Washington, as well as communities along the rail lines, are unwilling to accept the risks of Tesoro’s proposed project, given a string of oil train derailments and fires across North America. A thorough review of Tesoro’s track record suggests that the community has every reason to be concerned. The company has a demonstrated track record of flouting safety rules, injuring workers, polluting local air, and meddling in politics. Read more »

The Northwest’s Pipeline on Rails

Westbound oil train, Essex, MT. Photo credit Roy Luck.

Since 2012, nearly a dozen plans have emerged to ship crude oil by train to Northwest refineries and port terminals. Moving large quantities of oil by rail would be a major change for the Northwest’s energy economy, but so far the proposals have largely escaped notice. Most media accounts to date have presented only a fragmented view of the developments, and government regulators are evaluating the projects largely in isolation from one another. This memo presents the first comprehensive, region-wide review of all the oil-by-rail projects planned or currently operating in the Pacific Northwest. It finds that: In Oregon and … Read more »

Who Pays for Parking?

Monopoly Park Place. Photo by Philip Taylor, cc.

How the oversupply of parking undermines housing affordability. Read more »

Peabody Energy, Gateway Pacific, and the Asian Coal Bubble

Coal Prices Gateway Peak to Aug 2013

A new Sightline report shows that the collapse in coal prices jeopardized Peabody Energy’s coal export plans. Read more »

The Morrow Pacific Project

High costs could turn coal export plan into a terminal of last resort

Ambre_handling

The Morrow Pacific project, a coal export venture being pursued by Australian firm Ambre Energy, aims to ship coal by rail to Oregon’s Port of Morrow on the Columbia River, barge it downstream to a second port, and load it onto cargo ships bound for Asia. Recent financial disclosures suggest that the project would face unusually high costs in three separate areas: High handling costs. Unlike conventional export projects that would handle coal at a single location, the Morrow Pacific project would transfer coal twice—first from rail cars to barges, and later from barges to ocean-going vessels. The extra step … Read more »

Northwest Fossil Fuel Exports

fossil-fuels-052213

Across British Columbia, Oregon, and Washington, there are active proposals for seven new or expanded coal terminals, three oil pipelines, and six new natural gas pipelines. The projects are distinct, but they can be denominated in a common currency: the tons of carbon dioxide emitted if the fossil fuels were burned. Taken together, these projects would be capable of delivering enough fuel to release an additional 761 million metric tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere each year, equivalent to seven Keystone XL pipelines. The Northwest enjoys a reputation for leadership in clean energy and environmental policy. Yet the new … Read more »

Ambre Energy: Caveat Investor

Ambre Energy Revenue, Expenses 2006-12

Would-be coal exporter Ambre Energy faces mounting financial, regulatory and other challenges that make it highly unlikely that the company will deliver on its promises. Read more »

US Coal Exports and Uncertainty in Asian Markets

Photo by Daniel Dancer, used with permission.

With US demand for coal plummeting, coal companies are looking to Asia to shore up sagging sales at home. Since 2011, several groups have launched ambitious plans to mine low-grade coal from Montana and Wyoming’s Powder River Basin and transport it by rail to ports in Oregon and Washington, where it will be shipped to overseas markets—particularly China. At full capacity, the proposed projects would send 140 million tons annually. The coal industry claims that Asia offers lucrative coal markets. Yet much of the available evidence is cautionary at best. Sightline’s memo, “US Coal Exports and Uncertainty in Asian Markets,” … Read more »