Recorded: July 31, 2013
On July 31, 2013, a coalition of environmental groups, represented by Earthjustice, filed the first-ever lawsuit challenging the federal government's financing for exports of Appalachian coal. A telepress conference, moderated by Earthjustice attorney Abby Rubinson, was held the morning of the filing, discussing the litigation and the U.S. government's financing of coal exports.
Abby Rubinson: Good morning, and thank you all for joining us today. I'm Abby Rubinson, Associate Attorney in the International Program of Earthjustice, a public interest, non-profit U.S. environmental law organization. We're here to discuss the U.S. government's financing of coal exports, and the news today that six environmental groups are filing a lawsuit against the U.S. Export-Import Bank for financing coal exports without conducting any environmental review.
While U.S. coal consumption has declined gradually over the past 10 years, U.S. coal exports have risen. Increasing coal exports means increasing coal mining, rail traffic, and port activity—along with an array of impacts on the air, water, safety, and health of local communities and ecosystems.
Despite these impacts, the U.S. Export-Import Bank approved a $90 million loan guarantee last year to Xcoal Energy & Resources without considering the increased toxic air and water pollution that could affect communities near the mines and ports, and along the railways that connect them. The Export-Import Bank's financing will support a billion dollars in exports of coal mined in Appalachia and shipped from ports in Baltimore, Maryland and Norfolk, Virginia to markets in Japan, South Korea, China, and Italy.
The lawsuit—filed by Earthjustice on behalf of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network, Center for International Environmental Law, Friends of the Earth, Pacific Environment, Sierra Club, and West Virginia Highlands Conservancy—charges that the U.S. Export-Import Bank violated federal law by failing to review the environmental impacts of its decision as required under the National Environmental Policy Act.
Joining us today is Diana Dascalu-Joffe, from Chesapeake Climate Action Network, the lead plaintiff in the lawsuit. She will describe the impacts of coal exports to local communities. Also with us is Doug Norlen with Pacific Environment, who will discuss the Export-Import Bank's financing of fossil fuels. And Justin Guay with the Sierra Club, who will discuss this case in the context of climate change.
Let's begin with Diana Dascalu-Joffe, Senior General Counsel at Chesapeake Climate Action Network (CCAN) who will describe the impacts of coal exports to local communities.
Diana Dascalu-Joffe: Thanks, Abby. And good afternoon, everyone. My name is Diana Dascalu-Joffee, and I'm Senior General Council for a regional nonprofit organization called the Chesapeake Climate Action Network.
Our organization represents over 90,000 supporters, members and activists in Maryland, Washington, D.C. and Virginia. CCAN has joined our partners in this case today to bring to light the devastating pollution impacts we're seeing right here at home as we export more coal from the East Coast. I will share with you two stories from the frontlines of coal exports in Maryland and Virginia that illustrate the health and environmental impacts that the Export-Import Bank should have considered before issuing this $90 million loan guarantee.
The Costs of Coal Exports: Personal Stories
Lorraine Ortega is a nurse and mom who has lived in Chesapeake, Virginia for twenty years. [Editor's Note: See photos and a map of Ms. Ortega's area.] She lives a half-mile from the Norfolk Southern rail line that roars through Chesapeake every day, frequently carrying uncovered rail cars of coal. She's also a nurse at Norfolk General Hospital, which is also about one mile from the Lamberts Point coal export terminal in Norfolk, Virginia. She has experienced coal dust and diesel pollution first-hand from coal trains at her home and has seen the noise, traffic and air quality impacts from the massive coal export facility while at work. If the trains increase, and she sees more pollution, Lorraine would consider moving from her home to protect her family's health and safety.
Jason Reed is a teacher and runs a community garden in Curtis Bay, Baltimore, near the CSX coal export facility. [Editor's Note: See photos of Filbert Community Garden and the CSX facility.] He clearly can see the massive, football-field-sized coal piles from the garden that he runs. On a windy day, Jason and his students have seen coal dust blowing off the tops of the piles. Citizens of Curtis Bay, and especially children, have some of the highest rates of asthma and respiratory illness in the entire state of Maryland. An increase in coal dust and exhaust from trains and trucks at the CSX coal export facility could increase the unjust burden of health impacts Curtis Bay residents already experience.
As these examples show, the Export-Import Bank's $90 million loan guarantee isn't just a number on paper. It has real world impacts on people's children, communities and environment. It means more coal trains, larger coal piles, more coal dust—all to ship coal to Asia and Europe. When the Export-Import Bank failed to review the impacts to people living near mines, rail lines, and ports, it violated the law. It failed to provide communities like Curtis Bay, Chesapeake and Norfolk an avenue to express their concerns, and how an increase in financing for coal exports will impact their daily lives.
Abby: Thank you, Diana. Now we turn to Doug Norlen, Policy Director for Pacific Environment, who will talk about the Export-Import Bank and its financing of fossil fuels.
Doug Norlen: Hello everybody. I am the Policy Director of Pacific Environment, an international environmental organization based in San Francisco. My focus within the group includes the pursuit of environmental and developmental reforms of public finance institutions, including the U.S. Export-Import Bank. I'm going to speak briefly about the larger context of the Export-Import Bank's fossil fuel financing.
Unfortunately, under Chairman Fred Hochberg's direction, the Export-Import Bank's fossil fuel financing has skyrocketed to $10 billion in 2012, which is twice the amount that it financed in 2011, which was itself a record year. This includes enormous coal plants and coal mines in India and South Africa. This also includes the fracking of coalbeds in Australia, connected with huge liquid natural gas projects being built inside the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area.
Pacific Environment and other groups filed a lawsuit against the Export-Import Bank for its financing of these Australia projects in August of last year. The Export-Import Bank's skyrocketing fossil fuel financing is not only bad for the global climate, but it also causes pollution that is damaging to human health, and it's triggered conflicts with local communities that sometimes have turned deadly.
Meanwhile, the Export-Import Bank's financing for renewable energy is faltering. Despite a congressional directive to finance far more renewable energy, the Export-Import Bank's renewable energy financing in 2012 fell to $355 million, from $721 million in the previous year. As a result, the Export-Import Bank's support for coal exports, with no environmental assessment, must be viewed in the larger context of an agency that is on a fossil fuel binge. Thank you very much.
Abby: Thank you, Doug. Now we turn to Justin Guay, Associate Director with the Sierra Club's International Climate Program, who will discuss this case in the context of climate change.
Justin Guay: Thanks everybody. My name is Justin Guay. I'm with the Sierra Club. I wanted to build on my colleague Doug Norlen's and other colleague's comments, and couch this in the context of the President's recently announced Climate Action Plan.
An important plank of that plan was to end U.S. public support—U.S. taxpayer support—for the construction of overseas coal-fired power plants. This was an incredibly important step forward for the administration in demonstrating global leadership to safeguard the health and livelihoods of local communities around the world who are at threat from this construction. The problem is that all along coal's lifecycle, from extraction to transportation to power generation to waste disposal, communities face tremendous impacts.
What we see with this case is a clear problem in coherence between the administration's ending of support for overseas coal-fired power plants, but a lack of oversight for projects, specifically export projects, that affect local communities here at home. We firmly believe it's just as important to protect the health and livelihoods of local communities here at home as it is abroad. Therefore, we believe that these types of projects—export projects, specifically—fail to live up to the spirit and intent of the President's Climate Action Plan, and specifically the call to end support for overseas coal-fired power plants. Therefore, we believe that these should be the next class of projects that should be up for ending of support from U.S. taxpayer dollars and from this administration.
Abby: Thanks to all of our speakers and to everyone for joining us today. A recording of this presentation will be available at earthjustice.org very soon. Thank you and goodbye.