Comments on the PBS documentary "Coal"

(The documentary “Coal” aired on PBS last week and is available now online here.)

I was extremely disappointed in the content of this program. I did a television show on this subject with a Congressional candidate (the only one to oppose it) late last year so I know enough about it to see that PBS pulled a lot of punches in aide of their corporate donors. Sadly, it reminded me of what FOX calls ‘fair and balanced”.

Just from the few minutes I could stand to watch, I could see you failed to address many important issues. The fact is: the surfactant applied to the coal that the RR employee (in fear of ending his 19 year career?) was so enthusiastic about is toxic and is only required to be applied to the coal when it enters an urban area. With our rainy climate it doesn’t take much imagination to understand where those toxins (in addition to those in the coal) will end up; on our streets in our waterways and ultimately in our heavily polluted Puget Sound. When the amount of dust blowing off each car was mentioned, you conveniently forget to tell listeners that these are no ordinary trains but will be super trains, 130 cars long and will be running 2-3 an hour. 600 pounds of coal dust per car, 400 cars and hour. You didn’t do the math. Property values will be degraded, traffic snarled and local businesses will be severely impeded. For these reasons and more, the City of Seattle has voted against it.

Not being able to ski at Snoqualmie Pass is probably the least important fall out from global warming. Global warming means extreme weather with loss of life and property, massive dislocations, starvation, untold human and economic costs.

When showing the models of the new “cleaner ports; you forgot to mention that some will be built adjacent pristine land and sensitive fisheries. The loading facility was covered but that won’t keep toxins from seeping into the soil and water. Uncovered stock piles are part of any facility.

The alleged jobs it will create are mostly transient and may or may not be local hires. Only several hundred permanent jobs will be created in these highly automated facilities.

The program forget to point out that much of the coal are on public lands and Peabody will be paying us a fraction of what they will sell the coal for. One of the other jackpot winners in this dubious project is Goldman Sachs who are investors in the port facilities but will only be required to provide 10% of the capital. The rest of the financial burden will fall on taxpayers who will pocket none of the profits and will have the burden of added healthcare costs and traffic revisions. Privatize the profits and publicize the risk.

Warren Buffet’s railroad is another winner. The infrastructure is inadequate for even the 2 or three shorter coal trains a day that use it, let alone the 2-3 megatrains an hour that are planned. Derailments are common. There were three in a month just before we went on air, spilling coal dust, and twisted metal all along the tracks. He’ll have to upgrade his rail lines before this project can begin. That burden will be borne by the public.

The alleged Asian demand for coal is a myth. China doesn’t want the coal. They have surplus piled on their docks and their own coal deposits. They are transitioning to clean energy and renewables as we should be.

When the stakes are whether or not the planet will be able to continue to support life, finding new markets for the products that contribute to its decline is madness. With CO2 indicators at record levels and climbing much faster than anticipated, clearly this coal should stay in the ground. It’s complete nonsense to allow a statement like ‘we need to burn carbon while we are making the transition to renewables” stand without a disclaimer. It’s because of the privileged profiteers like Peabody, Buffet and GS who line the pockets of politicians that we are still lagging in clean energy production.

Corruption hits closer to home than you might think. SSA Marine, the container and shipping company who will be managing the ports has been strong financial supporters of Senator Patty Murray’s political career, starting with her school board days and continuing to the present. Patty’s husband has spent his entire career working for SSA Marine.

This issue is far too important to settle for a tepid ‘he said, she said’ format. There are important facts, life and death facts, that this documentary failed to make clear. It’s not a matter of opinion that this is a bad idea. When all the information is reported accurately, it’s clear that this project should not go forward. It was a disservice to your viewers to do less.


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