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Oregon's economy needs coal exports

My View: False claims threaten to derail job creation, region's trade potential


The recent article (How much coal dust will spill in the gorge, Sustainable Life, June 13), which makes unfounded claims about coal dust, serves as a perfect example of coal export opponents’ willingness to use false claims and scare tactics in order to undermine the proposed export facility.

It’s time we refocus the debate and look at the economic and export opportunities the export expansion will provide Oregon.

First and foremost, let’s address the absurdity of the coal dust claim — coal trains have been coming through the Northwest for years headed to Canadian export facilities. So, these trains are nothing new to our community.

Moreover, as of 2011, the Northwest Clean Air Agency had no records of complaints about the coal trains or any alleged coal dust issues. The accusations against coal dust began around the same time the proposed coal export facilities filed for construction permits.

Furthermore, coal trains are packed in an aerodynamic form and sprayed with a sealant to ensure the highest retention for the coal being transported. The alleged facts that environmentalists promote ignore the benefits of this procedure, which is proven to reduce coal dust loss dramatically.

Given the history of coal trains in our area, it is abundantly clear export opponents are going to make any claim necessary to derail the proposed export facilities; unfortunately, they are doing so at a very real cost to our state economy.

A recent report by the Business Roundtable highlighted the importance of the trade and export industry in Oregon. According to the study, international trade supports an estimated 489,000 jobs in our state and generates about $16.5 billion in goods. International trade is the backbone to our economy. It always has been.

The report also found that between 2004 and 2011, Oregon’s trade-related employment grew seven and a half times faster than total employment.

So, not only is the trade and export industry essential to Oregon, this industry also is growing at a much quicker rate than the rest of the state’s employment opportunities.

The proposed export facility in Oregon is a huge private investment that will both directly and indirectly benefit the state’s economy. The terminal is projected to create more than 2,000 jobs during the construction phase and employ more than 1,000 people when the terminal is operational, while creating millions in state and local taxes.

As great as these direct benefits are to the state, the proposed export facility also will supply indirect aid to other export industries.

As a fifth-generation Oregon farmer who exports grass seed to China, I understand that expanded export opportunities will lead to increased exports. In Oregon, 90 percent of exporters are small- and medium-size companies — companies that could expand export capabilities. So a large, private investment like the coal export facility would create greater access to rail and export opportunities for small exporters like me.

Developing the precedent of encouraging industry investments will not only help other export industries, but struggling counties as well.

Oregon has high regional unemployment rates, especially in rural areas that have historically supported natural resource industries. For example, Grant County, a manufacturing county, has an unemployment rate hovering around 12 percent. These are the types of counties that have keenly felt the decline in particular industries, like the timber industry, and have never quite recovered.

Oregon has seen its fair share of export opportunities come and go because of a few outspoken individuals. But we can no longer allow a select few to sway public discourse. Our state’s trade and export industry will only continue to grow if we take advantage of industry development like the coal export facilities. We cannot afford to let another economic opportunity slip away.

Jeff Kropf, a fifth-generation Oregon farmer and a former state representative, is executive director of the Oregon Capitol Watch Foundation.