Who would support the Gateway Pacific Terminal coal export proposal financially? Taxpayers, businesses, local governments and residents of communities like mine along the rail and shipping routes would; not that we were asked.
The mines in Montana and Wyoming extract federally owned resources, so the public owns the coal. Under single-bidder auctions, the coal is sold to giant corporations at a fraction of its market value. These companies also underpay federal royalties that could be used to fund services and local improvement projects.
The cheaply privatized coal would then be transported halfway around the world, shedding the expensive consequences of that transport onto taxpayers, businesses, residents, state and local governments. It will be expensive to restore vehicle and transportation systems to functionality after 29 additional miles of GPT train traffic daily are added to the rail line.
In Mount Vernon, where I live, there are four major at-grade crossings through commercial districts. An "at-grade" crossing means that passengers and vehicles must always yield to trains for however long it takes them to pass. (Last week it took more than 45 minutes for one coal train, which stalled, blocking three major at-grade crossings at once). A simple project to build a grade separation (overpass) runs around $20 million and can take more than 10 years to fund and build. And "simple" means no river or interstate to deal with. Mount Vernon has both, so our town is probably looking at a price tag of more than $100 million. There are 120 other communities along the coal transport rail lines. Do the math: total remediation would cost billions.
Our city council asked a Burlington Northern Santa Fe lobbyist in open meeting whether the railroad pays for this necessary infrastructure. Nope, the railroad is protected by federal law from being charged more than 5 percent, and they often pay much less. The other 95-plus percent, according to BNSF? "Usually it's a matter of federal, state and local governments to cough up the dough," according to the Skagit Valley Herald, June 9, 2012. And "governments" means taxpayers - you and me.
So the contributions we must "cough up" for this scheme include fire-sale prices of public assets, making an economic and health sacrifice zone of our communities, and pitting communities against one other in the fight for shrinking tax dollars. Considering the skimpy public return, it is an ill-advised, or actually ill-coerced, investment.
Phillip Holder is a former administrative law judge who retired to Mount Vernon in 2005.