If you want to understand all the economic undercurrents of this election, here is one you may not have considered. States like Montana, Wyoming, and the Dakotas produce not only a lot of petroleum from oil shale, but also have a tremendous wealth of high energy, low sulfur soft coal deposits.
Now there is a country in the world that has a lot of American dollars in its pockets and an insatiable lust for clean burning coal. That country is China.
Here is the problem. For coal from Montana and Wyoming to reach the Pacific Ocean, the coal trains will have to pass through an unbroken barrier of blue states--California, Oregon, and Washington, which are all governed by Democrats who hate coal and hate coal trains because they carry coal.
The governors and legislatures of these state have vowed to fight tooth and nail against any major new coal port being established on the Pacific Ocean other than what already exists. They will use every weapon in their environmental and health and safety law inventory to harass, delay, or outright make impossible such conveyance of coal through their states. Their threats can undoubtedly delay such a surge in coal trading to China for at least one decade, if not three or four. Even if the coal eventually muscles its way through, the blue states promise to tax it extremely heavily for the benefit of their entitlement constituencies.
On the other side of the ledger, the coal resource sitting in Montana and Wyoming is extremely valuable. It is not a matter of tens of billions of dollars, but hundreds of billions. The Crow Indian Nation alone probably controls $50 billion of the dark brown resource.
So if the solid barrier of the recalcitrant and money-hungry blue states can't be penetrated, what recourse does the inland coal have to get to Chinese markets? Well, putting the coal on trains northward into Canada probably won't work, as the Canadian transcontinental railroad is jammed full carrying Canadian commodities for export to Asia. Canada would surely rather sell its own coal than enable the USA to sell ours, especially since President Obama has been such a mule on their Keystone pipeline.
But there is a third way. Coal trains could actually leave Montana and Wyoming and head east, to St. Louis. Now if the mighty Mississippi River is kept sufficiently dredged that huge ocean-going coal freighters can reach Kansas City, then the newly-widened Panama Canal comes into play as an economic game changer.
Keep in mind that there are truly huge amounts of money at stake in this game. Democrat politicians all across the West have cast themselves in the role of naysayers who won't play at all. That is one way to shut yourself out of an important and inevitable conversation that will make or break the futures of a number of states.