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A massive new rail line planned to move millions of tons of low-grade coal from northeastern Wyoming to the Midwest has been stopped. For more than 9 years Sierra Club and our allies have been battling plansby Dakota Minnesota& Eastern Railroad Corp. (DM&E) to build this new coal line and late yesterday DM&E announced the project is "on hold."

The $6 billion rail line would have carried 100 million tons of coal annually, enough to power about 50 coal plants.  If burned, the coal shipped by this rail line alone would have emitted approximately 200 million tons of carbon dioxide, the equivalent of adding about 40 million cars to our highways.  By stopping this coal line we are ever closer to averting runaway global warming and jumpstarting a clean energy revolution.
Let’s put those numbers in perspective. Stopping this one rail line may be one of the biggest steps we have ever taken to slow global warming. For the U.S. to do its part to stop global warming, we have to reduce our carbon run-rate by upwards of 200 million tons each year.  This one victory has thus bought us a full year's worth of progress – not that we should stop here, of course.  
This decision is also further evidence that coal is on its way out. The risk of financing coal ventures, future carbon regulations, the Obama Administration closing the loopholes coal enjoys in mining, burning and ash disposal, and competition from affordable and reliable clean energy options clearly spells trouble for coal.

The Sierra Club beat back this project in 2002 when we and our allies persuaded the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit that the Bush Administration had failed to consider the global warming impacts of this new train line. This decision stands as one of the first global warming cases in our nation.  After the Bush Administration agreed this project might have some impact on global warming, the legal challenges continued.

Throughout the years of legal wrangling we worked with a broad coalition of landowners and public health advocates - including the Mayo Clinic in Rochester - that did not want coal trains running through its back yard.  

Stopping this ill-conceived coal line continues a welcome and recent trend. In just the past few weeks we've seen decisions not only to abandon plans for new coal plants, but also existing coal plants being retired and replaced with cleaner alternatives.
Last week Ohio Edison Co. announced it would slash coal burning at its R.E. Burger coal plant in Shadyside, Ohio, and replace the coal with biomass due to a pollutant-lowering agreement with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
This past Monday, Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) entered the twentieth century when it announced that it will study whether it should close the John Sevier coal plant in Rogersville, Tenn., and six units of its Widows Creek Fossil Plant in Stevenson, Alabama.
Just one day later, Progress Energy made public plans to close three coal plants in North Carolina. The coal plants would be replaced with a clean-burning natural gas power plant.  Progress Energy cited "changing emission targets and the likelihood of legislation to reduce carbon emissions" as a reason for the switch.
This week we also celebrated the 101st proposed coal plant being defeated.  For more than a year we, along with our allies, have been battling Santee Cooper’s planned Pee Dee coal plant in South Carolina. Apparently someone at Santee Cooper finally updated the cost of coal and realized that global warming regulation was imminent.  
All that, and we can see why the Energy Information Administration (EIA) announced recently that coal use in the United States has plummeted in the past year. Whereas coal provided more than 55 percent of our electricity in May 1985 in May of this year it only provided 42.5% of U.S. electricity. It’s a welcome downward trend for coal, and we will be doing everything we can to replace the remaining dirty coal with clean energy even faster in the future.

Originally posted to Bruce Nilles on Thu Aug 27, 2009 at 02:59 PM PDT.

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Comment Preferences

  •  How is natural gas a solution to global warming? (0+ / 0-)
    •  Less emissions per unit of energy (6+ / 0-)

      Natural gas emits about half the carbon dioxide, the principal greenhouse gas, that coal does for the same amount of energy produced.

      •  Also a lot less mercury, sulfur, etc. But . . . (0+ / 0-)

        . . . don't we import a lot of natural gas now? So there's more carbon emitted in transporting it from wherever. Unless it's done by pipeline. And of course there's the funding-dictatorships problem.

        I think natural gas is better than coal, but I hope we use it as just a bridge to renewables, conservation, and (yes) nuclear.

        "The true strength of our nation comes not from the might of our arms or the scale of our wealth, but from the enduring power of our ideals." - Barack Obama

        by HeyMikey on Thu Aug 27, 2009 at 04:35:00 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  There are plenty of natural gas fields in the US (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:

          Three perspectives:
          From the Natural Gas Supply Association:

          Where Are These Reserves?

          Most of the natural gas that is found in North America is concentrated in relatively distinct geographical areas, or basins. Given this distribution of natural gas deposits, those states which are located on top of a major basin have the highest level of natural gas reserves. As can be seen from the map below, U.S. natural gas reserves are very concentrated around Texas and the Gulf of Mexico.

          This map gives a general impression of where most of the proved natural gas resources are in the United States. Visit the EIA for more in-depth analysis into natural gas reserves across the country and to access geographical natural gas data.

          From the US Dept. of Energy:

          Did you know that 900 of the next 1000 US power plants will use natural gas?   Domestically produced and readily available to end-users through the existing utility infrastructure, natural gas has also become increasingly popular as an alternative transportation fuel.
          Serving alternative fuel vehicles (AFVs), natural gas is clean burning and produces significantly fewer harmful emissions than reformulated gasoline. Natural gas can either be stored on board a vehicle in tanks as compressed natural gas (CNG) or cryogenically cooled to a liquid state, liquefied natural gas (LNG).

          Further, the Clean Cities program supports public and private partnerships that deploy alternative fuel vehicles (AFVs) and build supporting infrastructure.

          But on the downside (via Reuters):

          U.S. government scientists have for the first time found chemical contaminants in drinking water wells near natural gas drilling operations, fueling concern that a gas-extraction technique is endangering the health of people who live close to drilling rigs.

          The Environmental Protection Agency found chemicals that researchers say may cause illnesses including cancer, kidney failure, anemia and fertility problems in water from 11 of 39 wells tested around the Wyoming town of Pavillion in March and May this year.

          The report issued this month did not reach a conclusion about the cause of contamination but named gas drilling as a potential source.

          Someone here has posted diaries about hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking," that go into detail about the health concerns over the extraction technique. I wish I could remember who the diarist is, because the diaries are infrequent but information-rich.

          The line between generalization and stereotype is as fine as the line between stereotype and bigotry.

          by 1BQ on Thu Aug 27, 2009 at 06:37:21 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  USA is world's biggest natural gas importer. (0+ / 0-)

            OK, now you're making me educate myself, dammit.

            USA is the world's biggest natural gas importer:

            But the vast majority comes via pipeline from Canada. Our next biggest suppliers are Trinidad and Egypt, but their volumes are a small fraction of what we get from Canada:

            According to the Energy Information Administration (EIA), net imports of natural gas accounts for about 15 percent of natural gas use in the United States annualy. About 90 percent of U.S. natural gas imports are from Canada. . . .

            The United States is also involved in the cross-border trade of natural gas with Mexico. However, the U.S. is a net exporter of natural gas to Mexico.


            So my fears about funding dictatorships and spewing carbon for shipping are minor concerns. Still, burning natural gas puts fossil carbon in the atmosphere -- less than coal, but more than renewables or nuclear or conservation. So I still see it as a bridge technology, not a permanent solution.

            "The true strength of our nation comes not from the might of our arms or the scale of our wealth, but from the enduring power of our ideals." - Barack Obama

            by HeyMikey on Fri Aug 28, 2009 at 06:04:01 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  Natural gas also normally has ... (0+ / 0-)

              ... quicker "spin up" times, so as we expand wind power generation, gas is a better back up power supply than coal, which often needs to be fired up already to be available as reserve power - the so-called "spinning reserves".

              When coal powered electricity is replaced by wind power, that is a big CO2 win for each kWh, but also a secondary benefit in tilting the overall playing field away from coal fired power.

              If you join the twitter #HSrail swarm, find me @BruceMcF

              by BruceMcF on Mon Aug 31, 2009 at 08:42:18 AM PDT

              [ Parent ]

  •  A better idea (5+ / 0-)

    Tell them to take their six billion and put towards a nice high speed rail passenger train.


    "Sick Around the World"

    Watch it, sent it along to all you know.

    by oxfdblue on Thu Aug 27, 2009 at 03:13:55 PM PDT

  •  Thank you, thank you (7+ / 0-)

    Sierra Club, why are you so great?  We need more organizations and people willing to latch on to an issue and not let go until they win.

    America honors leaders, not politicians - stop global warming now!

    by mogmaar on Thu Aug 27, 2009 at 03:15:04 PM PDT

  •  Won't China end up burning any coal (0+ / 0-)

    that we don't?

    •  Not if you can't deliver it from this mine (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      and coal isn't traded internationally the way oil is. It's less energy-dense than oil, and at some point, it's not worth shipping it long distances.

      •  For now (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        but if China is bringing online I think two coal-fired power plants a month, they'll eventually burn up all of their coal obviously, and when that happens then they'll have to find more coal elsewhere.

        •  Still won't come from these mines (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:

          It's just not worth shipping low grade coal such long distances. China will get their coal from someplace closer, or they'll run short.

        •  We can't pressure China and India to go green... (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          dewley notid, 1BQ

          ...until we've done so ourselves. Reducing our coal is the first step, not the last.

          "The true strength of our nation comes not from the might of our arms or the scale of our wealth, but from the enduring power of our ideals." - Barack Obama

          by HeyMikey on Thu Aug 27, 2009 at 04:36:28 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

        •  Who says they won't find another path (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          dewley notid, 1BQ

          like sustainable resources of wind, solar and geothermal?

          China has already begun investments and will use their resources to develop renewable energy.

          <div style="color: #a00000;"> Our... constitutional heritage rebels at the thought of giving government the power to control men's minds. Thurgood Marshal

          by bronte17 on Thu Aug 27, 2009 at 05:29:28 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

  •  How big a part does the recession play (0+ / 0-)

    in this decision? It's "on hold" not stopped, which suggests to me financial considerations more than anything else.

    •  Also Natural Gas is very cheap right now. (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
    •  Every new project after the Copenhagen (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      Conference is going to be infinitely less likely to implement. Converting to a green economy, as Obama says will let us be leaders in the 21st century economy.
      You'd think with this fact China would have a head start on us; and in some ways they do with their bullet train/ electric car spending. This is because they have an authoritarian government. China's big problem here is their own people, who have an incredible amount of nationalism that leads them to believe "if USA can pollute for 100 years, why not us?." But in the end, the best interest for the Chinese gov. is to try and play in the new economy.

      But this flaw lends us the ability to have a head start. Though we are an inefficient democracy, we are likely to have a good bill by Copenhagen, and our populace really, really, want the jobs and some, the new lifestyle, caused by our adaptation in process.

      If we win, it will allow us to reduce both the trade deficit and debt. China wants this, believe or not, because they suffered when they were overburdened in our debt. But they would probably prefer not being taken back over as the preeminent economy.

      Point is, after Copenhagen, everyone's priority (to lead the economy) will be clear, and disaster projects will have a very low priority. 20 years ago, this coal link would have been a sure thing, Sierra Club or not.

      Don't bring Heaven to Earth, bring Earth to Heaven.

      by canadianpuppet on Thu Aug 27, 2009 at 04:31:14 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Victory (5+ / 0-)

    These major victories will someday soon be seen standing with the banning of CFC spray cans in the annals of human survival.

    Congratulations, and thank you.

    "When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro." - HST

    by DocGonzo on Thu Aug 27, 2009 at 03:44:18 PM PDT

  •  Thank you Sierra Club and Bruce Nilles n/t (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
  •  Sierra Club deserves no credit- (0+ / 0-)

    This was simply a smart business decision by the rail lines new owners, Canadian Pacific (CP). CP hauls plenty of coal, though their major commodities are grains, lumber, and intermodal containers. So CP is not about to give up hauling coal. CP looked at the numbers and realized there was no point in spending billions to extend the line to reach the Powder River Basin coal mines just so they could get into a price war with competitors BNSF and UP. The cancellation of this line extension will not reduce coal fired power production a bit- BNSF and UP have plenty of capacity to supply current and planned coal fired plants.

  •  Begging Your Pardon - (0+ / 0-)

    I have done doctoral work on the Powder River Basin.
    I know the DM&E issue well.

    The ONLY thing that this decision accomplishes is to keep the shipment of coal comfortably in the hands of the two mega rail systems of the American West - Union Pacific and BNSF.

    Trust me - they are shipping coal night and day - nonstop.
    And they will continue to do so.

    You certainly realize that many energy projects have been put on hold - including solar, wind, and natural gas.  Why?  Because the capital costs are exorbitant and the price of the energy produced - from whatever source - cannot support the venture.

    With natural gas below $3 -
    It is hard for any other energy to compete.

    Wind canceled -

    Solar on hold -

    Nuke & oil refinery canceled -

    Smart Grid project canceled -


    PS - The DM&E's legal difficulties in obtaining railroad rights of way may actually provide a disturbing precedent for high-speed rail.  Most high-speed lines will require new rights of way and imminent domain / condemnation proceedings.

  •  I love Coletrain! Wait your talking carbon, (0+ / 0-)

    not jazz? Still I don't see this waste to build rail lines for coal trains but not high speed rail or monorails to inner cities.

    "Mercy, peace and love be yours in abundance (liberally)" Jude 2 Brother of Jesus

    by pinkpanther on Fri Aug 28, 2009 at 03:55:12 AM PDT

  •  YAY!!! (0+ / 0-)

    I helped get Sierra Club to pay for Charmaine Whiteface to go to a conference in Wisconsin to network on this issue, a buncha years back.

    Thanks for the update, and all the hard work!

    Finally, w00t! to helping stave off further destruction of the Powder River basin in  Wyoming!

    A bird doesn't sing because it has an answer, it sings because it has a song. -- Maya Angelou

    by birdbrain64 on Fri Aug 28, 2009 at 09:54:03 AM PDT

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