Lumps of Coal

Coal Train Companies Are Suddenly Facing Meetings Packed with Protesters

Lumps of Coal
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Just before 6 a.m. on October 27, Bellingham residents switched on their flashlights, set up lawn chairs outside a local high school, and broke out thermoses of coffee. By 11 a.m., 2,000 people had arrived to comment on a proposed coal terminal outside their city that could soon be exporting up to 54 million metric tons of coal annually to Asia.

That is, if certain businesses get their way.

SSA Marine, an international shipping- terminal firm, applied for permits in February 2011 to build the $500 million facility at Cherry Point, triggering environmental reviews led by the US Army Corps of Engineers and Washington's Department of Ecology. If approved, up to 18 trains would rumble through the region daily—traveling through Spokane, the Columbia River Gorge, and up the coast through Longview, Tacoma, Seattle, Edmonds, Everett, Mount Vernon, and Bellingham—blocking traffic and leaving clouds of coal dust in their wake. The agencies are now in the midst of a three-month public comment period to determine which impacts should be studied before issuing or denying permits. The comment period ends January 21, 2013.

Now that the elections have passed, these coal trains are setting up to be the biggest political showdown in Washington State. Environmental groups say that the groundswell of community opposition is their best avenue for killing the five terminals proposed in Bellingham and Longview, Washington, and the Oregon port towns of Boardman, Clatskanie, and Coos Bay. Thousands of people have been packing public meetings, encouraging state and federal officials to deny permits outright.

"The response has been spectacular and rather unprecedented," says Ross Macfarlane, a spokesman for the environmental group Climate Solutions. For example, on November 3, more than 500 people assembled in Friday Harbor to protest the terminal, and on the eve of the election, another 1,000 people repeated the process in Mount Vernon. Now another meeting is scheduled in Seattle. But that event, originally scheduled for November 13, was forecast to have such large attendance that officials moved it from North Seattle Community College to the Washington State Convention Center to accommodate a crowd six times larger and postponed it until December 13.

Protesters already helped kill one coal terminal last summer, slated for Grays Harbor. "After hearing from the community, the terminal said that they wanted to ship friendlier, healthier items than coal out there," explains Krista Collard, a spokeswoman for the Northwest chapter of the Sierra Club.

At the meetings, people raised a slew of concerns. In Bellingham, physicians spoke of increased risks of lung and cardiac disease along the coal train corridors, while others questioned how emergency vehicles would be delayed by mile-and-a-half-long trains blocking streets every hour.

In response, coal, terminal, and railroad companies have hired their own lobbyists, working under the umbrella of the Alliance for Northwest Jobs & Exports, to saturate local television stations with close to $1 million in television ads. Coal terminal proponents also argue that interstate commerce laws prevent local authorities from blocking coal shipments from passing through their jurisdictions.

But Macfarlane and other environmentalists say they're wrong. In order to proceed with the coal terminals, companies must first secure development permits from local county councils, aquatic lease permits from public lands commissioner Peter Goldmark, and approval for the projects from the state Department of Ecology and federal Army Corps of Engineers.

"We can defeat this," says Macfarlane. "There's plenty of authority in state law to deny permits. The key is to show up in force and let politicians know the consequences of rubber-stamping these projects." recommended


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The reason for exporting coal to China and Japan is because we need the money. We voted to continue trillion dollar deficits, to continue the food stamp, 99 week of unemployment, and Social Security disability gravy train. To implement Obamacare. And so we propose to cut off access to our coast for coal trains? Digging up the coal, hauling it to the coast in trains and selling it to China generates tax revenue. Get it?
I find it amazing that the same people who believe the global warming scam will nevertheless fail to consider the effect of trillion dollar deficits leading to a meltdown of our currency on our future generations. I find it amazing that here is BNSF proposing to create jobs for our longshoremen and the tutti frutti urban liberals with whom the ILWU are allied are trying to stop this. At least the United Mine Workers FINALLY figured out that Obama and the tutti fruttis are not on their side! Took 'em long enough.
Posted by Roger Knight on November 16, 2012 at 6:07 PM · Report this
@1: Debt is purely a human construct. Respiratory diseases and climate change are dictated by the laws of physics and hard sciences. You're cute though, thinking your little backwards thoughts.
Posted by Vitriolforbreakfast on November 16, 2012 at 8:56 PM · Report this
Vitriol, if coal dust is really that big a problem, we can always require that the coal hoppers be covered with lids. Given that human use of carbon containing fuels amounts to about 4% of the carbon cycle, and that carbon dioxide is but a small contributer to the climate, water vapor and the power output of the Sun being much larger contributers, trying to control the climate by restricting fossil fuel use is like trying to control volcanic activity by sacrificing virgins.
Debt is a human construct. So is money. So is eviction for failure to pay rent or losing your home in a trustee sale because you could not pay the mortgage. These events in your life can have a far more profound effect on your health than a few trains rolling through the tunnel beneath downtown Seattle hauling coal.
When the National Debt blows up, we will find out that the United States is not too big to fail. We can fail. When that happens, any climate change will be the least of our problems.
Posted by Roger Knight on November 16, 2012 at 11:41 PM · Report this

I believe you're looking for

Denial of basic scientific fact tends to go over a lot better of their message boards. I doubt you're going to make much headway here.
Posted by josh416 on November 18, 2012 at 11:40 AM · Report this
Roger Knight is funny. I think he might want to be a "scientist" when he grows up. However, he more likely will be a lobbyist/quisling; he's good at repeating wishful thinking mumbo jumbo.

He would have been one of the Vatican's favorites when they went after Galileo. Hmm, would he have been a "Tutti Fruiti" too, like anyone else who believes in scientific methodology over backward, confused, mythology?
Posted by SelfishOrStupidGOP? on November 20, 2012 at 11:34 PM · Report this
Hmm, no mention of how this will bring high paying, blue collar union jobs to Bellingham. Also, these coal trains have been going by my work nearly every day for the last few years. Other than the grinding wheels that make ear piercing noise, I've never seen this mystical coal dust or had any problems breathing.
Posted by Drewksi on November 23, 2012 at 12:31 PM · Report this

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