The Thin Green Line all started in 2010 with a coal export proposal at Longview, Washington, on the Columbia River. Backed by an unscrupulous Australian company, the Millennium Bulk project would have shipped by rail and then vessel a staggering 44 million tons of coal per year to markets in Asia. Today, the Washington Department of Ecology denied permits for the project, citing unavoidable harms in nine environmental areas that were identified in the project’s formal review.
Sightline has been bird-dogging the Longview coal export proposal for years. We’ve published more than two hundred analyses, research reports, articles, and graphics to make clear the stakes. And our work made its way into the media hundreds of times. We looked at rail congestion, vessel traffic, coal dust from trains, coal dust from site operations, health risks, the implications for mining in Montana, state tax subsidies, the role of public port commissioners, the hypocrisy of PR and law firms working for the project, and the connection to state retirement funds. We illustrated the staggering quantity of the coal and that would be shipped through Longview and we depicted the greenhouse gas pollution from burning it.
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Maybe most importantly, we picked apart the financial underpinnings of the project. If the Department of Ecology hadn’t killed the project, the international coal market might have done it. The US coal industry has already lost hundreds of millions of dollars pursuing the mirage of Asian coal markets—where competition proved too fierce, and prices too fickle, for US producers to thrive. A 5-year price crash in international coal markets that started in 2011 forced most US coal companies to abandon their export ambitions. The only remaining die-hard, a company called Lighthouse Resources, continued to bet on the Millennium terminal only because it had no other good options: its main financial backer, a private equity firm called Resource Capital Funds, kept the project alive only to prevent a complete wipe-out of its prior investments.
The export terminal at Longview was the last remaining of six well-developed coal schemes for Oregon and Washington, including schemes at Coos Bay, Boardman, Clatskanie, Longview, and Whatcom County, Washington. They were Goliaths. Yet one after another, they stumbled and fell in the face of coordinated and intractable opposition in the Northwest—the movement we’ve taken to calling the Thin Green Line. Sightline is proud to have contributed to the fight and we are proud of our partners: these successes would not have been possible without a huge array of people and organizations—so numerous that the names would fill pages—but most especially the Power Past Coal coalition and Northwest tribes.
With the demise of coal exports at Longview, the Thin Green Line will focus on the few remaining fossil fuel giants still remaining: especially the huge oil-by-rail terminal at Vancouver, Washington, and the biggest-in-the-world methanol refinery at Kalama, Washington.