Join Dick and others at the monthly Grounding For Action:Beyond Fossil Fuels meeting on Tuesday. July 29th 6:00 – 9:00 p.m at Leaven Commons 5431 NE 20th Ave, Portland, OR 97211 (formerly Redeemer Lutheran Church at 20th and NE Killingsworth in Portland). Find out more here.
Governor John Kitzhaber
160 State Capitol
900 Court Street
Salem, Oregon 97301-4047
Dear Governor Kitzhaber:
I write to address the implications of Connect Oregon’s proposals from Ambre Energy and Global Partners.
These two firms are part of an all-out effort by the industry that will drown the low-carbon future of Oregon, Washington and British Columbia.
Both corporations are important drivers of a flood of fossil fuels, a tsunami rolling out from the Bakken, Tar Sands, and Utah fields and the Powder River Basin through the Columbia Gorge, the Deschutes Gorge, over the Canadian Rockies and the Siskiyou Summit poisoning the waters of our joint coastline and the Salish Sea, turning our interior landscapes into strip-mined West Virginia and our coasts into Louisiana’s cancer alley.
Both corporations are driving increases in fossil fuel use and carbon emissions at a time when the US military sees climate change as a near-to-medium term threat to national and global security. In buying this industry’s line, we increase the threat to our own global, national, regional and local security the security of our own children and grandchildren.
Locally, these proposals give both companies flexibility to handle both coal and crude for export at both Boardman and Clatskanie; and to sharply increase the number of trains coming through Portland, Scappoose, Rainier and Clatskanie.
Connect Oregon treats these proposals as separate dots. But from even 10,000 feet, they, with their allies in the industry, politics and media, form one project, requiring a spectacular increase in oil and coal train, barge and tanker traffic, and in the carbon footprint of our state and region.
That one project, covering two US states and one Canadian province with crude, coal, tar sands and LNG, creates a clear, present and massive danger:
To the health and safety of humans and hundreds of other species along the transport routes;
To our commercial fishing, tourism and recreation industries.
To our farms and vineyards along the rail routes.
To our community-level commerce and first-responder work.
To our community property values along the routes. (Who can sell their home if itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s near a daily string of coal and oil trains?)
To our air, water and soil and our climate. (The region is already experiencing nine derailments per month; with a full potential of 57 trains per day along the Columbia, the risk of spills regardless of new safety regulations into the Columbia is unacceptably high. (Sightline Daily, May 13, 2014 and October 8, 2013.) At full operation in Washington and British Columbia, the number of tankers through the Salish Sea jumps from 80 to 640 per month; the GHG emissions and air pollution totals are off the charts and new safety regulations on trains do not reduce end-use toxins or emissions.) Under full operation, both the Columbia and the Salish Sea face fundamental threat.
The proposals from Ambre and Global and the immense regional project to which they contribute are net losers by any measure except the short-term bottom line of the fossil fuel and rail corporations pushing them.
The actions of both Ambre and Global make them rogue operators:
Ambre lied in the Longview hearings. It has a classic speculator’s balance sheet, in a falling Asian coal market. And it made an $800,000 per year “offer” to the tribes if they would give up their treaty rights to a healthy river and fish near Ambre’s proposed site at Boardman. (AP, July 8, 2014)
Global’s predecessor at Clatskanie squandered a Business Energy Tax Credit for a biofuels refinery by switching secretly to refining oil, turning the BETC on its head; the state didn’t fight to get its money back, but simply absorbed the loss. When Global itself exceeded its permitted throughput by six times, DEQ merely slapped it with a small fine. Global has played a shell game with state and federal permits and now faces an NGO suit in federal court over EPA air quality violations.
Why should our state government put public money into these outlaw operations?
They don’t pass the smell test, and they bring us not just losses, but hazards.
Also, don’t they believe in free market capitalism? Global is number 146 on the Fortune 200 list, with 2013 revenues of over $19 billion, total assets of $2.4 billion, and annual return to investors over the last five years of 37.2%. Ambre can apparently afford to “give” $800,000/year to the tribes. Compared to firms of this apparent strength, $7 million from the Oregon lottery, split between them, is pocket change. Why bother?
What is being exchanged for this $7 million in public money as grants no less, not even loans?
This question was the elephant in the Oregon Transportation Commission hearing room on July 17th. The process was enlightening. First, corporate and political proponents had signed up early, and took, as a bloc, the first hour and a half. Proponents repeatedly used several phrases, forming themes: “stick with the process,” “keep the integrity of the process,” “partnership,” “we’re agnostics about the commodity.”
My translation (based on growing up politically in Richard J. Daley’s Chicago and Howard Golden’s Brooklyn): “integrity of the process” means the fix is in so stick to the script the PR firm gave us; “partnership” means subsidy or even give-away; “we’re agnostics about the commodity” means we’re not going to get into a debate with the community or environmental opponents about the health or safety of the trains contents, much less all that climate stuff.
Most of the proponents were dressed almost uniformly, in black suits, and were confident enough to leave immediately after each testimony.
It was a teachable moment for the opponents, who were frustrated with the vagueness of OTC’s guidelines, and incensed with the transparency of the done deal. If anything, the hearing intensified our determination and increased our curiosity; the proponents PR firm overreached.
My view is that Connect Oregon, in this case, is a rubber-stamp game; the pity, even tragedy of it lies in the death and destruction it will, in its blindness, bring to our air, water, soil and creatures, including humans.
It appears that the $7 million in lottery money is the immediate currency of the game, on both sides. The political side guides this money into the pockets of the fossil fuel side. That much is clear.
What’s not yet clear is how much comes back in the form of campaign contributions and lobbing expenses.
For it’s also clear that, once the state subsidizes these oil and coal invaders, it will be hard for the state to turn around and object to expansions, which will come as certainly as breathing or taxes. By giving money, however small, to the fossileers, we all become complicit in the death and destruction that this decision precipitates; we are giving away our right of refusal, our right to security, even our right to life.
It will also become harder for politicians not to use more public money to “incent” corporations, and slip further down the slope of selling out our low-carbon future. This temptation is already overwhelming the oil and gas producing states.
Some may say, that’s just cynicism.
However, most people these days do not trust government, and blame corporate money. It is not hard to connect this Connect Oregon process with the fact that fossil fuel corporations, in the US and around the world, have always had enough cash and revolving doors to buy their political way right now, for example, in North Dakota, Texas, West Virginia and Pennsylvania. (Center for Public Integrity, February 18, 2014 and July 21, 2014; NPR/Pennsylvania/Impact June 5, 2013.)
Place that cash, from Oregon’s lottery and fossil fuel corporations, in the context of Citizens United, and we have a guaranteed, wholesale purchase of votes, on local, state and federal levels a repeat of the “capture” of politicians, media, and regulators of the recent dot-com and housing booms truly subprime government and bankrupt social and natural landscape; rationalized now by such phrases as “we’re agnostic about the commodities,” patting us on the head, as if “the commodities” weren’t the issue. God forbid we talk about the issue. How condescending, banal, unworthy.
This situation is creating a counter-tsunami, of alarmed and angry citizens, across Oregon, Washington and British Columbia. It cries out for at least some incumbents and candidates to actually step out and lead.
For this is not just another issue, it is the unprecedented threat to the health and safety of all species, and all their support systems; it is a fundamental threat in Oregon and the rest of our region to life itself, to civilization as we have known it; it is a radical, grinding, inexorable threat to our children and their children. Fossil fuels and their extraction, transport and use have become the great moral issue of our time.
Somehow, this has special significance for Oregonians, for we live in a special place, and we are about to destroy it.
My view is that Ambre, Global and their allies are asking all of us:
To throw away 125 years of Oregon history: our struggle, across five generations, to keep Oregon beautiful and healthy.
To overturn our hard-won state and local policies in public health and safety, energy, climate, environment, and open, transparent government.
To bury our core values.
To crush the hope of our children, grandchildren and great grandchildren for a low-carbon future.
If we submit to Ambre and Global, we sell our legacy on the cheap, to the fossil fuel industry and their investors; we choose the path of short-term, destruction, and death over the long-term, health, beauty, and life.
Instead, we should follow the words of Gary Burke, Chairman of the confederation tribes of the Umatilla: “Our creation story teaches us that we were created in this landscape, and it is our duty to take care of it. We have always lived here and we always will. Ambre Energy is just passing through in the name of the almighty dollar.” (AP, July 8, 2014)
The fossil tsunami will change the face and soul of Oregon, Washington and British Columbia. The irony here is beyond poignant it is outrageous, because this threat comes at a moment when, in this region, we are finally on the cusp of bringing a low-carbon economy to scale. Please think of the work put into that, by yourself and your predecessor in particular, by many people in government, NGO’s, universities, clean energy firms, citizens at large.
To throw all that away for a few dirty jobs and a few lousy bucks spread around by rogue, death-dealing companies what does that say about our moral imagination?
At the minimum, why can’t the patronage of our state lottery “incent” low-carbon enterprises of a healthy and beauty-filled future, instead of outfits such as Ambre and Global that are enthralled by an obsolete fuel and are in denial about a common catastrophic future?
Most of the people of this state are aware of the coal side of this threat; we are just awakening to the equally serious threat from oil. Most of us, in my view, want to put our moral imaginations, our core values, and our public money into scaling up deep energy efficiency and renewables into a low-carbon full-employment economy that is healthy and just. On both oil and coal, we need from our elected leaders not timidity, but straight talk and bold action.
Governor, I am sure you also are reflecting on your legacy in these sobering, tragic days. It comes with getting older, especially in these times.
I’m 77. My family, friends and I are taking action to turn our legacies into a future our children deserve. Please join us not just on coal, but on oil as well.
With citizen respect,
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