Coal export hearings draw record crowds

December 14, 2012

More than 2300 people packed last night’s coal export hearing at the Washington State Convention Center in downtown Seattle; about 95 percent of them came to say no to the proposed coal port near Bellingham. Lots more photos here.

Officials from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, state Department of Ecology and Whatcom County heard concerns about the health, safety, transportation and environmental impacts of coal dust, diesel emissions, noise and traffic disruption from coal trains and coal terminals from a diverse crowd that included local elected officials, parents and their kids, Tribal and community leaders, doctors, ranchers, miners and conservation groups.

Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn spoke about a recent study that found adding 18 mile-and-a-half long coal trains everyday through the city’s waterfront and neighborhoods could increase delays at rail crossings between 1 and 3 hours per day, slowing police and fire response times and hampering daily commerce at one of the Northwest region’s economic lynchpins, the busy industrial and port Sodo district south of downtown.

Seattle is the largest of hundred of communities from Bellingham, Washington to Billings, Montana that would be affected by the proposed coal conveyor at Cherry Point, one of five proposed coal ports which together would draw 140 million tons of coal annually from mines in Montana and Wyoming to port sites in Oregon and Washington.

Moving all that coal would add 60 coal trains (30 full, 30 empty) daily to already congested rail lines across the four-state Northwest region, according to a recent study, Heavy Traffic Ahead. For perspective, in 2010, trains unloaded $80 million tons of freight in Oregon and Washington according to The Oregonian. The same report put the price-tag for road and rail upgrades needed to accommodate all those trains at upwards of $4 billion, most of which would be borne by taxpayers.

The Seattle hearing was the last of seven in the state, which kicked-off in Bellingham October 27th where a crowd of more than 2000 coal export opponents overflowed into the parking lot of Squalicum High School. The hearing in Spokane drew more than 800, including a busload of Montanans who were denied a hearing of their own.

The Power Past Coal coalition, where you can go to make your own comment, estimates nearly 8000 people came out to the seven hearings, which represent merely the beginning of  the environmental review, which according to state agencies has drawn more citizen interest of any such review in the state’s history.

The “scoping” process, which determines what will be studied in the Environmental Impact Statement, has become a focal point because coal port backers want to study only the relatively small footprint of each terminal. Local elected officials, Oregon Governor Kitzhaber, conservation groups and others in communities along the rail lines want the agency to consider the full range of impacts, from coal trains, to ranches near the mines, to the effect on climate change of burning all that extra coal in Asian power plants.

The Army Corps of Engineers must decide whether to study all the possible consequences of all five proposed terminals in a single “area-wide” study. The passion, energy and unprecedented turnout at the recent hearings can only put more pressure on the agency to do so, or else turn its back on the thousands of people who together made Washington State history.

Resource Media is proud to play a supporting role in this important campaign. To read about our work fighting the dirty business of coal exports, click here.