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Morgan Wyenn’s Blog

Port of Long Beach's coal exports tarnish its "green" reputation

Morgan Wyenn

Posted May 14, 2014 in Solving Global Warming

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The State of California is known internationally as an environmental leader.  Both of Southern California’s biggest ports—the Port of Los Angeles and the Port of Long Beach—have earned this reputation as well, leading the way in adopting green policies and advancing technologies to reduce the harmful pollution from port operations.  There are a lot of good reasons why the Port of Long Beach’s motto is “The Green Port.”  But there is something hiding in plain sight at “The Green Port” in Long Beach that goes against every environmental policy the port and the state has worked for.  The Port of Long Beach is exporting coal.  Yes, you read that right: the Green Port exports coal. 

Not only that, the Port is also exporting petroleum coke, a byproduct from oil refineries that creates even more CO2 than coal when burned.  It is too dirty to burn in California, so petcoke created by the refineries in LA are trucked to the port and then exported abroad.

As the U.S. is phasing coal out of our energy mix, coal companies have come up with a strategy similar to the current approach to petcoke.  They want to continue mining coal in the U.S., but instead of selling it to U.S. power plants, they want to sell it to Asia and India.  Coal would continue to be mined in the Powder River Basin in Montana and Wyoming, and then put on trains to proposed coal export terminals in the Pacific Northwest, where it would be loaded onto ships to carry it across the Pacific to power plants in Asia.  To some extent, this is happening already—made possible by our very own Port of Long Beach.  Some of the coal mined in Colorado and Utah is currently carried on trains to the Port of Long Beach, and exported abroad—about 1.4 million tons of it per year.  

This has been going on for years now, which will probably come as a surprise to most LA residents.  While LA celebrated a huge victory in March 2013 when our Mayor announced that Los Angeles is getting off of coal by 2025, under our noses the Port of Long Beach was sending over a million tons of coal to be burned overseas.

Because coal burned anywhere on the planet contributes to climate change, exporting our coal to other countries not only undermines any progress the U.S. has made to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions, it undermines our values as well. 

The Port of Long Beach is currently negotiating a new agreement with two separate companies that handle the coal export operations at the Port—the Metropolitan Stevedore Company and Oxbow Carbon (the head of which is William Koch, one of the infamous Koch brothers).  We have not yet seen the new proposed agreement, but we understand it would continue business as usual, that is, more exporting of coal.  The Port’s Board of Harbor Commissioners is going to vote on whether to enter into the new agreement at the end of May. 

We will be there asking the Port to stop the dirty business of exporting coal.  The Port is a public entity and it operates as part of the public trust.  It is unacceptable for the so-called Green Port to be facilitating the burning of coal abroad, and not only that, making money off it along the way.  

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Comments

Adrian MartinezMay 15 2014 12:59 PM

Morgan, thanks for exposing this important issue. I'm deeply concerned about this business decision to export an environmentally destructive product like coal.

David GreeneMay 15 2014 01:58 PM

If it looks like a contract will happen regardless of opposition, then at a minimum, the term of the contract should be short.

And thanks for letting people know.

Comments are closed for this post.

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Switchboard is the staff blog of the Natural Resources Defense Council, the nation’s most effective environmental group. For more about our work, including in-depth policy documents, action alerts and ways you can contribute, visit NRDC.org.

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