The Sierra Club can't be accused of being either practical or consistent. According to Brian Walsh, a senior writer at Time magazine, it took in excess of $25 million from the natural gas industry to oppose the use of coal as an energy source in its "Beyond Coal" campaign. Now that it has stopped receiving these payments, it has launched a "Beyond Natural Gas" campaign. Taken together, if the Sierra Club has its way, this would wipe out 55 percent of our region's current electrical energy supply.
What this really amounts to is an attack on a viable, functioning economy, which requires energy to power homes and jobs. In its anti-energy zeal, the Sierra Club is trying to hold hostage any industrial project that might use or promote the use of most of today's practical and affordable energy sources.
The Gateway Pacific Terminal is one of the targets of their agenda of de-industrialization. I fully support the move by our utility providers to develop cost-effective renewable energy sources such as wind and solar, but we cannot today build an economy or society around what constitutes only 10 percent of electricity production, to say nothing of the important role that natural gas plays as a direct source of energy. Even electric cars are fueled by power generated mostly from coal (26 percent) and natural gas (29 percent).
We should apply the best science and technology to develop practical ways of making the use of all energy sources more environmentally friendly, but job growth and the economy shouldn't be held hostage in the process, or there will be no way to pay for such efforts. Those of us who dwell in the real world know that industry is what produces family-wage jobs and the tax dollars to fund vital public services. And industry needs energy to function.
Playing upon emotion rather than reason, I believe the Sierra Club has been shameless in promoting non-factual fears about coal dust and diesel emissions. Despite the fact that coal trains have been passing through Washington State for decades, none of the major clean air agencies have ever received a complaint of coal dust. Similarly, trains are the most environmentally sound way to move freight in America and contribute less than 1 percent of the state's total air particulate emissions. Despite the clear evidence that these are non-issues in regard to the Gateway Pacific Terminal, the Sierra Club continues to employ the spread of misinformation as one of their primary campaign tactics.
The Sierra Club's current radical approach should really be called "Beyond Jobs" or "Beyond Reason." It's time to get real and find paths forward that don't always involve crippling the prospects of working people.
Brad Owens is president and the Northwest Washington Building and Constructions Trades Council, AFL-CIO.