Olympia Fellowship of Reconciliation 

Working for peace, social justice and principled nonviolence since 1976

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Coal Trains

The Dangerous New Geography of Coal

The US’s coal mining has shifted from Appalachia to Montana and Wyoming.  Just as “Peak Oil” marks the maximum amount of oil that can be pumped out of the ground before this resource declines in productivity, likewise coal extraction has peaked in Appalachia.  The most cost-effective sites have been exploited already.  Growing community-based campaigns to protect their land, water and air – and related environmental regulations – have put the squeeze on coal.  Now the Powder River Basin and parts of SE Montana and NE Wyoming are the US’s largest coal-producing areas.  The coal companies are working hard to exploit these areas, as they have exploited Appalachia for many years.  But low-priced natural gas is out-competing coal as a fuel to burn for generating electricity, so coal now generates 35% of our nation’s electricity, down from 50% before. 
US coal companies need to find new markets.  In the world, coal burning has shifted from the US to China and India, which together use about 2/3 of the coal burned in the whole world.  In 2010, almost half of the coal used in the world is used by China.  The U.S. is the second largest user, followed by India.  All other nations combined use only about 1/3 of the coal. 
These facts combine to mean that the coal companies’ new strategy is to mine coal in Montana and Wyoming, ship it in long uncovered rail cars to Pacific Ocean ports in Wash. and Ore., and ship it to Asian nations, where it would be burned and return to us as air pollution and severe climate damage. 
More information is below.  You can help!

Coal Trains Would Hurt People and Environments
and Impose Hidden Costs on Taxpayers

Coal companies, railroad companies, and ocean shipping companies are teaming up to propose truly massive shipments of coal from Montana and Wyoming to ports in western Washington and Oregon to be loaded on ships and sent to Asia.  Targeted communities include the Gateway Pacific Terminal (a shipping facility sprawling across half a square mile at Cherry Point near Bellingham) and the Millennium Bulk Terminal (in Longview), as well as several ports on Oregon’s coast.  A Grays Harbor WA location was considered and rejected, but still might end up as a terminal for shipping horribly polluting tar sand oil.
Every day a great many trains – each more than a mile long – would haul coal from the mines in Wyoming and Montana to ports in Washington and Oregon.  One proposal would run nine full trains every day going through Spokane, along the Columbia River, through Cowlitz, Lewis, Thurston, Pierce, King, Snohomish, Skagit, and Whatcom counties up to Cherry Point and then nine empty ones returning from Cherry Point through the Cascade Mountains, through Spokane, and back to the mines every day.  (Other ports might experience different numbers.)
These train cars would be open, because covering them would increase the risk of spontaneous combustion.  Railroad companies admit that along the route, between 500 pounds and one ton of coal dust (containing toxic heavy metals) would spew out of each open train car.  Since each train would be more than a mile long, this would cause terrible amounts of air pollution, ground pollution, and water pollution all along the route.  This would cause serious respiratory damage to people, farm animals and wildlife.  It would kill fish and ruin spawning habitat.
This huge number of extremely long and heavy trains will impose enormous wear and tear on the rail lines, ties, ballast (crushed rock under the ties), and the many intersections with highways, roads and streets between the mines and our Pacific Ocean ports.  Who will pay for repairing these intersections?  Taxpayers will!  A federal law limits the liability of railroad companies to 5% in most cases, so while the railroads reap the profits, they will impose the repair and reconstruction costs upon federal, state and local taxpayers.  Federal, local and state budgets are already slashing funds for important good activities, so this hidden subsidy for rail and coal companies at taxpayers’ expense will result in further cuts to governmental services that help people.

Organize Locally to Prevent Coal Trains from Running
Through Our Communities for Export to Asia

All along the routes and in other communities, decent people are outraged, and we have started organizing to stop this disaster.  The Western Washington Fellowship of Reconciliation’s November 10, 2012, Fall Retreat and the Olympia Fellowship of Reconciliation’s vigorous efforts are part of this. 
Our region’s environmental groups and a variety of other grassroots efforts have boldly jumped into the urgent campaign to stop this.  See two short lists of organizations at www.olympiafor.org/Climate_Crisis.html.  Soon we will add more information to our website’s climate page.
The Olympia FOR’s vigorous new climate group met on November 13 and is meeting on the second and fourth Tuesday evenings of each month through January (but on Thursday December 27 instead of on Christmas Day) at The Olympia Center, 222 Columbia Street NW, in downtown Olympia.  Our group’s primary contact person is Bourtai Hargrove, (360) 352-6327, climate@olympiafor.org
At our first meeting we created five working groups that are working hard between our general meetings.  Our five working groups focus on:

EIS Scoping Hearings

The coal train proposals would seriously hurt the environment in many ways.  By law, such a proposal requires the development of Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) to identify those implications.  What should be the EIS’s “scope”?  The coal companies and railroads want to examine only the immediate port locations.  Many other people recognize that the “scope” should include everything from the mines, all the way along the rail route to the ports, and also the burning of coal in Asia and the effects of its damage to the climate. 
The EIS process includes opportunities for public hearings to address the “scope.”  These EIS Scoping Hearings are being conducted by the US Army Corps of Engineers and the Washington State Department of Ecology.  These scoping hearings are extremely important ways for not only the scientific community but also the general public to make sure the EIS will address real concerns and not merely serve the interests of coal and railroad companies.
EIS scoping hearings in Bellingham and Friday Harbor attracted 3,500 citizen protesters!  When the government announced the hearing for Seattle, the number of pre-registrants was so gigantic that the government rescheduled it for a much larger space, where thousands of people (overwhelmingly opposed to coal trains) gathered and hundreds testified on Thursday December 13.
It’s important to provide written testimony on paper or by e-mail.  You do not need to be an expert, but you should raise thoughtful, substantive questions and ask the government to address specific concerns.  Much more information about how to do this is posted at www.powerpastcoal.org and www.climatesolutions.org and www.protectwhatcom.org and some other organizations’ websites.
Here is a website that confirms the number and provides maps:  http://protectwhatcom.org/
Here is a state wide railmap:  http://climatesolutions.org/nw-states/washington/wa-state-rail-map-2007

For more information and resources, see our December 2012 / January 2013 newsletter pages 1-5 and page 10 and www.olympiafor.org/Climate_Crisis.html


In the fall of 2012, five days of civil disobedience took place in Montana to protest the coal industry’s latest scheme:  Uprising in Montana: Activists Take a Stand Against Coal Exports   READ MORE of the article by Scott Parkin and posted at AlterNet.

Movement Opposes More Coal in the Northwest:  The Power Past Coal campaign is fighting seven potential coal export terminals, three in Washington and four in Oregon. The group hopes to mobilize people to send a strong message to state and federal decision-makers on Oregon’s first proposed coal export terminal, an 8.8 million ton-per-year coal export project on the Columbia River. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is moving quickly with permitting the coal export terminal.  If this project moves forward, the coal company, Ambre Energy, would ship Montana coal by rail to the Columbia River, load it onto barges that would clog the Columbia River, and then offload the coal onto ocean-going ships at the Port of St. Helens, Oregon, near Longview WA.  See information elsewhere on this Climate Crisis part of the Olympia FOR’s website.

Coal export information and action opportunities:  See www.coalexportaction.org  

More information about the Cherry Point (Whatcom County) coal export terminal and how to submit written comments about the EIS Scoping until January 21, 2013:  Here is an excellent source of information:  http://www.re-sources.org/gpt   This website provides information about the impacts at http://www.re-sources.org/gpt/the-impacts  and information about several ways you can help at http://www.re-sources.org/gpt/take-action

Submit your comments for the EIS Scoping no later than Monday January 21, 2013:  Submit comments online through comments@eisgatewaypacificwa.gov or through postal mail to Mr. Randel Perry, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Seattle District),
Care of: GPT/BNSF Custer Spur EIS Co-Lead Agencies
1100 112th Avenue Northeast, Suite 400
Bellevue WA 98004

Coal export terminal at Grays Harbor is canceled:  On Aug. 14, 2012, RailAmerica announced that it dropped its plan for exporting coal from Grays Harbor WA.  Their statement said that the port terminal had better uses that would be “much more likely to generate jobs, economic development, tax revenues, [and provide a] general increase in business for the Port ….”  Many Grays Harbor residents have vigorously opposed a coal export terminal there.  Five other ports are still being considered for this project that would hurt our environment and public health, and would cause pollution and congestion throughout the NW, as long coal trains with uncovered hoppers spew dust along the path through local communities.  People want the Army Corps of Engineers to fully review all aspects of the NW’s five remaining coal export proposals.  Visit www.powerpastcoal, and click the “Take Action” link.  However, the Grays Harbor port site is being considered for a site for exporting heavy oil from tar sands, so the work must continue.

One-hour video shows how coal exports threaten the West Coast:  TVW goes in-depth to give you a balanced look at the coal controversy and the burning questions about our potential as the coal shipping capital of America.  This comprehensive overview provides a good introduction especially for people who are relatively new to the issue, but informative for all of us.  Visit http://tvw.org/index.php?option=com_tvwplayer&eventID=2012100080  or visit http://tvw.org/index.php?option=com_tvwsearch&keywords=coal+crossroad  and click “Coal Crossroads.” 

Dana Lyons wrote a song, “Sometimes,” about the proposed coal export train which would carry 100 million tons of coal a year from Wyoming and Montana to ports in Washington.  Watch his video performance at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9w6NvixeYTI

In September 2012 a number of Canadians blocked a railroad line to prevent exports:  http://thetyee.ca/News/2012/09/19/Whiterock-Blockade/

Good organizations on this subject include www.PowerPastCoal.org and www.coalexportaction.org

See elsewhere on the Olympia FOR’s Climate Crisis page for plenty of information about Coal Trains and how you can prevent them from damaging our region and the climate.



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