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Coal trains are coming to California. And they'll be shipping coal through the port of Stockton, then through the fragile Sacramento-San Joaquin Bay Delta to the open Pacific. It's a disaster in the making.

Frustrated by the shrinking demand for coal in the United States, the coal barons have been scheming to send the coal of the Western United States to Asian countries thirsty for power. A major chokepoint has been West Coast ports - only one deepwater, sorely overburdened port in Vancouver exists. The coal companies drew up plans for six deepwater ports in Oregon and Washington, only to be met with fierce resistance from residents who don't want mile-long coal trains sidling through their towns, tying up traffic, and shedding coal dust like so many industrial pythons. So far the activists have blocked construction of three terminals in Oregon and Washington, with three more still on the drawing boards.

Delta mapEnter Stockton, an inland California city at the far east of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, recently bankrupt and desperate for jobs. The port of Stockton has recently added 1.2 miles of rail track enabling it to handle six ore or coal trains per week.

Arch Coal has just sold its Utah coal mines to Bowie Resources, a Kentucky firm. Bowie has already agreed to ship 2.3 million tons of coal through the port of Stockton, according to a press release. Now it has Utah coal to ship. In 2012, an "incremental amount" of coal was exported.

The only thing coming between the port of Stockton and the open Pacific Ocean is the environmentally fragile maze of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, miles of mazey waterways through which 37-foot-draft vessels must pass.

The state is perpetually concerned about the Delta, and it's concerned about the climate and health impacts of exporting coal. Last year, the state of California passed a resolution opposing coal exports along the West Coast, AJR 35:

Resolved, That the Legislature urges the Governor of California to inform the Governors of the States of Oregon and Washington of the significant health risks to the people of the Pacific Coast states if large coal export terminals and coal transport expansions are licensed and permitted to operate on or near the coast of the States of Oregon and Washington...
The question will be whether the state's legislature and environmentalists will trump the jobs claims. Already, the dinosaurs claim that coal export permits are grandfathered in, and that some coal has  been exported from Stockton for 80 years, or at least since 1981. They want to perpetuate the 19th century economy, never mind California's leading role in the clean energy economy of the 21st century.

Originally posted to Climate Hawks on Sat Jun 29, 2013 at 09:50 AM PDT.

Also republished by California politics and Climate Change SOS.

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