Few places would have benefited more from the 2015 Clean Power Plan than the Adirondack Park. Had the plan been enacted, it would have abated mercury poisoning, cleared the air above the High Peaks of smog and checked acid rain, while, of course, slowing climate change. (It committed the US to cut greenhouse gas emissions by one third before 2030.)
Now that the Environmental Protection Agency has repealed the plan, not only will our air, water and wildlife suffer. Our landscape will too. Thirty miles of railroad tracks deep within the Adirondack Forest Preserve are more likely than ever to become a warehouse for surplus coal cars.
Coal, as any consumer of unbiased media knows, is being replaced by cheaper, cleaner forms of energy.
In fact, as Ed Ellis, the president of Iowa Pacific, the company that owns the thirty mile spur through Hamilton and Essex Counties, recently told a panel of Warren County Supervisors, “one out of five coal-fired power plants in North America has shut down” over the past two years. As a result, he said, thousands of coal cars have been removed from circulation and are currently warehoused on hundreds of miles of tracks in the midwest.
The coal cars that have been taken out of circulation, Ellis explained, are still under lease and must be stored until those leases expire. When that time comes, we might expect most of them to be sold for scrap and parts or recycled into beer cans, since it is indeed true that coal’s days are numbered. Under any administration but the current one, that would be the case. But we are not governed by a normal administration.
“The current mood of the President and Congress is that we’re not done with coal. We want to figure out how to revive it,” Ellis told the Warren County Supervisors.
So the owners have no incentive to scrap the cars. Rather, the incentive is entirely with their preservation. As a consequence, “some bright shiny aluminum cars may very well show up here (in the Adirondacks),” Ellis said. His company’s thirty miles of track, with its capacity to store 20,000 cars, “is a piece of the 7,500 miles of track needed to store 75,000 cars over the next ten years,” Ellis told the Supervisors.
So there you have it. Because of the EPA’s decision to repeal the Clean Power Plan, a response to Donald Trump’s ill-considered campaign promise to revitalize the coal industry, coal cars could be brought to the Adirondacks to be warehoused until a use for them is found. Or indefinitely, since any use whatsoever is unlikely to be found, ever, no matter how hard the President and Congress try.
Photo: Railroad train of tanker cars transporting crude oil. Courtesy Earth Justice.