Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Opinion: Clean Power Plan’s End Will Mean Littered Landscape

Railroad train of tanker cars transporting crude oil on the tracks earth justice photoFew 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Now that the Environmental Protection Agency has repealed the plan, not only will our air, water and wildlife suffer.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.

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Anthony F. Hall is the editor and publisher of the Lake George Mirror.

Anthony grew up in Warrensburg and after an education that included studying with beat poet Gregory Corso on an island in the Aegean, crewing a schooner in Hawaii, traveling through Greece and Turkey studying Byzantine art and archeology, and a stint at Lehman Brothers, he returned to the Adirondacks and took a job with legendary state senator Ron Stafford.

In 1998, Anthony and his wife Lisa acquired the Lake George Mirror, once part of a chain of weekly newspapers owned by his father Rob Hall.

Established in the 1880s, the Mirror is America’s oldest resort newspaper.

15 Responses

  1. Brian Joseph says:

    They should install windmills across the High Peaks to provide electricity for the ADK area.

  2. Paul says:

    The plan was not going into effect, already blocked by the courts, before Trump showed up. I don’t care much for Trump but this has nothing to do with that action? I thought these were mostly “clean” tanker cars coming. Are they coal cars? Here in the finger lakes we see what is supposed to be the “cleanest coal plant” shutting down. Has nothing to do with the last president or this clown. Just the markets.

    • Boreas says:

      As long as the VP takes his marching orders from the Koch brothers and Pruitt is head of EPA, coal will continue to be a player in the US. And now we are no longer talking clean coal. Unfortunately, the Adirondack Park is downwind of the stinking mess.

      • Paul says:

        Yes, we know all the media talking points on the left and the right.

        The truth is that this industry is declining and will continue to decline no matter what this administration does over the next 3 to 7 years. The only new coal burning plant currently being built in the US is apparently a tiny one at the University of Alaska. This industry has to think of their assets in decade figures. They see that 30-50 years out (life of a plant) gas prices will still be low or lower. This Scientific American article tells the story pretty well:

  3. Worth Gretter says:

    The article says “thirty miles of track, with its capacity to store 20,000 cars”.
    Doing the math, 30 miles x 5280 feet per mile = 158,400 feet.
    Dividing by 20,000 cars = 7.92 feet per car.
    This makes each car less than 8 feet long, which is not realistic.
    More likely it should be 2000 cars, not 20,000. Then each car is almost 80 feet long.

    • Paul says:

      If the repeals of the plan is going to lead to more coal burning doesn’t that mean that coal cars would need to be transporting coal to power plants rather than sitting unused in the Adirondacks?

    • John Warren says:

      There are sidings. 20,000 is the company’s number.

  4. Thomas G Philo says:

    Excellent ~ In the meantime the north country continues to vote Republican against their own interest! ~ Incomprehensible!

    • Tony Goodwin says:

      In actual fact there is only one siding, and that can only hold about 50 cars. Otherwise it is a single-track railroad. When Iowa Pacific first warned Warren County of their plan to store cars, Iowa Pacific said they would be stored on sidings, so they could still access the tailings at Tahawus. Now, with the number of cars Iowa Pacific says they plan to store, it is clear that they have given up on the hair-brained scheme that it was possible to make money shipping crushed stone, a low-value (by weight and volume anyway) product for hundreds of miles over several different railroads or transferring it to a barge.

      So yet again, Iowa Pacific cannot be trusted to tell the truth about any aspect of their operations. For instance, just this past summer, Iowa Pacific told Warren County that they would expand their schedule from just weekends to Thursdays and Fridays as well. Those runs were listed on their web site, but one could not buy a ticket for those days, and the trains didn’t run.

      Unfortunately, it seems that Warren County is now only slowly beginning to realize how untrustworthy a partner Iowa Pacific actually is.

    • Tony Goodwin says:


      Read “Strangers in Their Own Land” by Arlie Hochschild, who is married to Adam Hochschild. son of Harold of Blue Mt. Lake. She spent much time in southern Louisiana trying to figure out why those people now voted Republican despite the obvious fact that Republican environmental policies were allowing oil and chemical companies to pollute the land and waters while also causing the rate of cancer to increase.

  5. va hiker says:

    These are tanker cars, not coal cars.
    Could this be a well thought out plan by Mr. Ellis? Also wonder if these cars are the old type that cannot be used any longer for transport. If so, Mr. Ellis is likely being paid by the tank car owners for this “storage”, which may mean nothing more than letting them rust into the ground. Can’t help but wonder if the cost to “recycle” these cars is much higher than what the owners are paying Mr. Ellis for “storage”, thus both the cars owners and Mr. Ellis win. The notion of Mr. Ellis asking for seven-figures not to store the cars on the tracks sure makes one wonder about his intentions. Best thing the county can do is cancel any agreement they have with him, return whatever fees he has paid, ask him to remove the cars and take bids from scrap companies to rip up these tracks once and for all, thus eliminating these types of shenanigans in the future. Letting these cars and whatever residue is inside them rust into the ground could lead to an environmental nightmare. In the end, follow the $$ and the answers are sure to abound – 🙂

    • Paul says:

      “cancel any agreements”? Sorry that isn’t how a contract works. That is an unlikely option for the county.

  6. Jim says:

    “slowing climate change”

    The world is adding 80,000,000 people EVERY year.

    Equivalent to the population of the USA in under 5 years.

    Go buy a Pries and protest if it makes you feel better.

    • Boreas says:

      Will do! What will you tell future generations you did? Every one of us on this earth makes decisions every day that can starve or feed the problem. As you say, we are ALL part of the problem – but we can also be part of the solution if we so choose.

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