The other day, I was having a conversation with some tree huggers (I used this name because they are from treehugger.com), and members of the New Progressive Alliance who were all in a tither over the Bureau of Land Management having awarded a contract to a sole bidder to extract coal from Wyoming’s Powder River region at the “cheaper-than-dirt” price of 95 cents per ton.While the underlying argument they should have been making was, that the burning of coal increases greenhouse gasses and should be reduced, they were fixated the sale was a sweetheart deal for one company.
The coal lease was awarded to the largest privately-owned coal company in the world, the St. Louis-based Peabody Energy. The bid was below the market rate at the time of $2.79 per ton. But Peabody’s bid also included an annual $3,000 per leased acre, and an additional 12.5 percent of the profit when the coal is sold.
Peabody has operations around the world. They own the largest reserves of coal in Australia and ship most of that to China. Peabody also just cut a deal to help China expand its own coal excavation to fuel the monstrous economy the Chinese have built.
The emoprogs at NPA saw the sale as another government conspiracy by President Barack Obama to damage the environment, and are demanding the president sign an executive order to stop the lease, which they claim he knew about. Sometimes it’s tough having a conversation with my brothers and sisters of the Infantile Left.
Having traveled throughout the West and seen the 120-car coal trains stretch mile after mile from Wyoming to Western states’ ports, it’s not going to happen. The trains are a conveyor belt – 24 hours a day, seven days a week. There’s so much rail traffic that small towns along the rail lines are complaining about how many more trains and how much more coal dust will float in the air as the conveyor belt of trains runs through those towns.
And those towns can expect even more traffic. Even now, coal companies are working to create six new terminals, from Coos Bay, Ore. to Bellingham, Wash. This would increase the capacity to move 63 more trains per day.
To try to mitigate the negative trail coal trains leave, U.S. Rep. Jim McDermott, D-Wash., has proposed a bill to create an excise tax of $10 per ton. The money would be distributed to the towns along the rail and Columbia River routes used to haul the coal to Pacific ports.
Vic Svec, senior vice president of corporate communications for Peabody Energy, said McDermott’s bill would hurt the economy.
“A major new excise tax on coal exports would run directly opposite stated national goals of encouraging greater exports for the benefit of the U.S. economy and American jobs,” Svec said in an email.
But, there’s a more complex tangle at the other end of that conveyor belt – the coal’s final destination – Asia.
This is what the NPA emoprogs fail to understand – no man is an island – especially in the 21st century.
At the other end of the conveyor belt, are coal-burning power plants fueling the Asian economies, particularly China’s. Those furnaces are generating power that make goods which are then shipped to the U.S. for our consumption.
From an environmental perspective, burning coal indeed creates more carbon-dioxide emissions that encircle the planet. But, American coal does provide some sense of stability for millions of Asians by raising them out of life-threatening poverty. That is the human factor emoprogs refused to address. Indeed, they dismissed these lives out of hand, and hung onto their Obama conspiracy to sell cheap coal. They would rather throw away millions of desperate lives who, as one U.S. Marine general recently said, are young, have no education, no jobs, no future, and therefore nothing to lose.
Even as I write this, China is taking steps on their own to control the oil and natural gas deposits in contested waters of the South China Sea. They know that, while we have enough coal to keep them going for the next 200 years, the political winds could shift against them.
Using its “fishing fleet” and a military garrison, China has created their newest city named Sansha. Part of China’s nine-dashed line strategy, the city is on the 0.8 square-mile Woody Island in the Paracels. Sansha sits at the center of Paracel and Spratly islands that are contested by Vietnam and the Philippines.
Its competitors know China’s fishing fleet diplomacy is backed up by gunboats, and the larger PLA Navy (PLAN) that is more powerful than anything Vietnam or the Philippines has in its current naval inventory. And China is not waiting for the Vietnamese to bring online a squadron of modern submarines bought from Russia, or the Philippines’ acquisition of 12 Japanese-made patrol boats. The PLAN is already sending combat-ready patrols into nearby waters.
West of Malacca is the Indian Ocean, where the Chinese are creating a defensive “string of pearls” around the other Asian economic giant – India.
With the Chinese building or expanding ports in Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Burma, the PLAN could have future bases available to them should the unthinkable happen with India.
Additional pressure on Beijing is the growing Chinese middle class. When a billion Chinese get off their bicycles and into cars, watch out. Thus, in order for the Chinese leadership to keep control of the country, it needs to feed its burgeoning economy – and that means increasing fossil fuel consumption at a rate the pales what the U.S. and Western Europe ever did in the 20th century.
So what then would be the scenario should a future president decide by executive order (the emoprogs’ choice of seppuku) to derail the 250 million tons of coal shipped overseas each year? What would their “save the (really America-only) Earth” policy mean for Asia? Yes, a clean environment is imperative, however, the questions I posed on what are the solutions went unanswered by NPAnistas.
China would certainly react. The U.S. Navy would then be tasked to keep the peace, show the flag, project power, whatever you want to call it. In other words, emoprogs have no compunction to sending our service members in harm’s way to keep their lungs clean.
In the first few months, during the time energy companies are suing the federal government to overturn the executive order, Asian factories would begin to shut down their factories as indigenous coal resources begin to burn out in Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, New Guinea, Macau, the Philippines and Sri Lanka. Hundreds of thousands of people in these countries are now cast adrift in the international economic turmoil. Armed uprisings would begin again, since the only thing having kept unrest at bay were the factories.
In order to meet the coal demands, and to ensure the growing disturbances didn’t spill into their country, the Australian Parliament offers more leases to Peabody Australia to extract even more coal to help fill the gap. Thus, coal exports by Peabody will jump from 158 million tons to 320 million tons, garnering even larger profits. However, the Australian exports will take three years to implement under a national emergency decree in order to build more rail lines and ports. Environmental lawsuits will ensue, delaying those constructions. (a side note: Energy experts say that by 2030, China would need five Australia’s of coal imports for their energy needs.)
In the meantime, the unrest in Indonesia – the largest Muslim country in the world – is being led by Al-Qiada and other terrorist organizations as they intensify their propaganda, pointing to the United States as the land of rich white people putting their boots on the neck of poor brown Asians.
The American embassy is attacked in Jakarta, and the U.S. president is pressed to move 2,500 U.S. Marines into the city from their new Australian base in Darwin. An additional 2,000 Marines afloat in the Arabian Sea are moved closer as back up.
CNN shows up, and films Marines firing on Indonesians who appear to be just a mob (we really don’t know how it started, but something went wrong and bodies are being carried away). Additional B-roll footage shows starving babies. Al Jazeera picks up that feed and sends it across to the Muslim world. Iran wants to go ballistic.
Marines in Guam are put on standby and Camp Pendleton’s 1st Marine Division is moved to March Air Force Base in Riverside to board C-5As destined for the Hawaii to join up with other components. At Fort Bragg, the 82nd Airborne are on their way to bases in the Middle East to act as a security force for the oil fields in the Gulf – just in case.
The Philippines fears the loss of energy sources and begins to sortie their small naval forces into the Western Philippine Sea and confront the Chinese garrison at Sansha.
Naturally, China who made official protest to Washington right after the executive order was announced, sends a heavier fleet out and sinks two of the older Philippine Navy patrol boats. Unfortunately, onboard the frigate, BRP Gregorio Pilar, there was a British naval officer who was observing the Filipino operations. He is killed when the ship sinks.
Additionally, China decides not to roll-over the U.S. Treasury Bonds that are due, and demands payment. This pushes the stalled American economy further downward. America responds with limited tariffs on Chinese goods. Because the Chinese are the sole operators of the Panama Canal, they increase transit fees to shipping headed to American ports, forcing some shipping companies to bypass the canal altogether delaying delivery, and adding more costs to the goods.
Not-so-covertly, the Chinese loosens the reins on North Korea just a little. The North Koreans sortie their submarines and start more aggressive saber-rattling along the DMZ.
Why involve the Korean peninsula? Because, we only have three aircraft carriers in the Western Pacific at the time; one locked with the Marines coming from the Arabian Sea, One on station near Japan, and the third in transit to the Philippine Sea. Oh forget Taiwan, we’re going to cut them loose now that the Chinese have carrier-killing ballistic missiles. All the while, three Navy littoral combat ships sit rusting away in Singapore because the Chief of Naval Operations has said, “These are not large surface combatants that are going to sail into the South China Sea and challenge the Chinese military; that’s not what they’re made for.” Besides, it will take five weeks to get the mission package modules to Singapore and installed to perform any kind of real work at sea.
The PLAN force in Pakistan heads for open water with fast attack boats with ship-killing missiles to join submarines already in the Indian Ocean. The U.S. naval forces, with its contingent of Marines, is slowed down as more aggressive anti-submarine tactics are implemented. Cargo-traffic scrambles to find haven in increasingly unfriendly Asian ports. With cargo traffic disrupted, WalMart seeks bailout money (OK, it’s a joke, but a point is being made).
A secret communique from the British prime minister to the president says the conservative British government will be striking at a Chinese target for the loss of their sailor on the Gregorio Pilar. The president, overwhelmed by both American and international pressures is unable to stop the British, but realizes that the executive order to halt all coal for export because tree huggers and anti-corporatists’ minds not seeing the international picture got him to a point where he now has to back the British play under security treaties.
Pick any scenario you want – sea access denial by the Chinese, small regional conflict, multi-ocean military exchanges, accidental sinkings or shoot-downs, you name it, American youth will certainly be involved and killed. Forty years ago, we would not have had such scenarios. But with intertwined economies and dependence by on coal and other fossil fuels, stopping the trains to Asia will only accelerate the friction over energy sources.
Emoprogs need to get out of their ’70s mindset and understand no nation is an island anymore. Their myopic environmental view has real unintended consequences. Without them coming to the negotiating table with solutions that include the stakeholders at Asian factories, civilian workforces, sea treaties, effective deterrents in place, carrots and sticks, they will continue to be fringe groups in American politics and policy-making.
If you have a different scenario we would love to print it. Let us know.
Isaac Cubillos, an award-winning journalist, has spent the past 20 years in the news business as a reporter and editor.
Throughout that time, he has covered the military as one of his beats. Isaac has won several journalism awards, including a chapter award of the Society of Professional Journalists for his series of articles on the D-Day invasion of the Normandy beaches by soldiers of Hispanic origin.
He is on the board of the Military Reporters and Editors Association, and a member of the Committee to Protect Journalists. Isaac is the author of “Military Reporters Stylebook and Reference Guide.”
Find out more about him on his miltary reporting blog.