“I don’t believe that we can say no to a commodity like coal any more than I would say no to a commodity like wheat,”
But why not? We routinely make distinctions about the things we encourage as commerce. We say “no” to importing commodities like heroin and marijuana. We discourage the export or sale of innumerable things, from raw unprocessed timber to caffeinated alcoholic drinks to Canadian pharmacueticals to pirated software. You could probably name hundreds or thousands of things.
It’s perfectly ordinary to encourage commerce in good things, while discouraging commerce in bad things. We do it all the time, and we should. So setting up a reflexive equivalence between coal and wheat doesn’t make sense. They’re not comparable for any number of reasons, such as:
…there is scientific consensus that increasing emissions of greenhouse gases are causing global temperatures to rise at rates that have the potential to cause economic disruption, environmental damage, and a public health crisis; The drivers of climate change are global, but the effects of climate change on Washington are local and unique…
If you can’t guess the author of that quote, I’ll tell you: it’s Governor Gregoire in a 2007 executive order. And it’s exactly right. Greenhouse gas emissions, which are caused in very large part by burning coal, will wreak tremendous harm. In other words, coal ain’t wheat.
Now perhaps the governor’s defense of coal exports was just an economist’s point: that commodities are interchangeable across markets, and local restrictions don’t much matter to final demand. But that’s a very limited point of view when you consider a more apt comparison to coal—drugs. Right now, Longview, Washington is poised to become the Cuidad Juarez of coal: a border town of sorts, endangering its own health to service foreign demand for a very destructive commodity. We should just say no.