Thursday, January 27, 2011

I heard that Lonesome Whistle Blow

“I heard that lonesome whistle blow….”
                                                Hank Williams

I love trains.  I love riding on them and l love what they represent in terms of the future of transportation in a transitioning world.  I live near the train station and that gives me comfort because it means access to options and adventure.  But lately the train whistles have brought me sadness and despair. 

But it is not the Amtrak whistles or the call of the mixed cargo loads, it is the coal trains.  Why?  Because I know that each time that engineer pulls that whistle cord on a coal train with a load bound for China that whistle wail is the sound of a manufacturing job leaving American soil. 

Hey wait a minute, aren’t the coal shipments and terminal plans going to create jobs?  Yes, that is what we are being told by folks working for foreign coal companies and Wall Street; folks with Benjamins to hand out to focus group participants, but take some time to think about it. 

Let’s take the 5 million tons of coal expected to be shipped from the proposed facility in Longview, Washington or our own Cherry Point as an examples.  That coal will power a city in China of around 490,000 folks for a year.  And let us assume that half of those people are in the work force or 245,000.  Since we know that 40% of China’s economy is export related, then it is logical to assume that 98,000 of those souls are working on products for export.  With the US taking 20% of that production, that means that 19,600 of those workers are making products for us that we should be making for ourselves.  (Some of this should be familiar to students of the Revolutionary War as part of the package of grievances.)

That coal is enabling roughly 20,000 workers and because we are shipping raw materials rather than value-added materials, we settle for less than half of a percent of those jobs created by our, citizen-owned natural resource.  In all of this we should remember that the people behind the local people arguing for the coal shipments and marine terminals in the Northwest are the same folks who are players in the economic engine that is shipping 500,000 US jobs a year to China.  In Bellingham’s case, people should think Goldman Sachs (51% ownership) when the promoters say SSA Marine. 

So when I hear that lonesome whistle blow, I hear the mournful cries of tens of thousands of displaced US workers wondering what the Hell happened to their lives.  All of us have faces that we can put on those folks.  And this is going to continue until we and our elected officials simply say: No, we have had enough.  That time is now.

Bob Ferris 
Executive Director


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