Proposed coal train would carry high risks | Guest Column

Not long ago, Vashon citizens won a 10-year struggle to stop a gravel mine and dock that would have wounded our home place and damaged the health of Puget Sound. Today we face a greater threat to the health of our region, the Sound and the Earth. Mining interests propose to mine coal east of the Rockies, transport it west by rail and ship it to Asia from five proposed docks, two in Washington and three in Oregon.

The Gateway Pacific Terminal at Cherry Point near Bellingham would be the largest coal export terminal in the United States, handling up to 48 million tons of coal per year. Transport and use of coal on this scale would have a huge impact on our daily lives in Puget Sound and push us closer toward catastrophic climate change.

The scoping hearing on the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the proposed terminal, scheduled for next Thursday in downtown Seattle, is a chance for citizens to speak out, demand accountability from public agencies and demonstrate opposition to this scheme. It’s an early step in what promises to be a long process.

Concerns about the overall proposal and the Cherry Point dock have been raised by everyone from Bellingham fishermen to the governor of Oregon. Mining and transport of coal spreads toxic coal dust near mines, tracks and docks, threatening the health of neighbors. Coal dust seeps into streams and harms the land. Up to 20 long coal trains each day would grind up the shore of Puget Sound, through downtown Seattle, disrupting traffic and creating headaches for commuters, truckers and businesses. Noise impacts would be significant.

Constructing this dock would fill nearly 150 acres of wetlands and affect thousands of acres adjacent to Puget Sound. Like the Glacier dock that we stopped on Maury Island, construction would harm herring and other species essential to the food web that supports salmon and southern resident orcas. Shipping coal would directly pollute Puget Sound through dust and spillage, in addition to the impacts of the dock and loading facilities. Extra ship traffic through the straits would increase risks of accidents and spills of fuel oil.

Ultimately, coal shipped west would be burned for power in China. The toxic products of coal combustion, like ozone and mercury, travel across the Pacific Ocean and affect us here. Adding U.S. coal to the international market would lower its cost, reducing incentives to transition to sustainable energy sources. Burning the coal would disperse millions of tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, increasing global warming and tipping the planet into a runaway climate change.

Washington citizens have worked hard to end coal power in our state. Now we are asked to absorb profound impacts to our health, economy and natural resources while the profits leave our state and the coal powers growth in China. The jobs that might be created by this proposal are few compared to other types of industry. We would better create value-added and high-skill jobs that will improve our region without diminishing our quality of life.

Just as Vashon citizens organized to defeat the Glacier mine and dock, people in Washington and Oregon are organizing to stop coal export plans. Nearly 2,000 turned out in Bellingham to show opposition. The Lummi Nation has stated their commitment to protecting their cultural heritage at Cherry Point against development. Many elected officials in Washington have expressed concern about the entire coal-shipping scheme, and Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber has called for a comprehensive review of the plan.

Vashon residents know something about standing up to big economic interests that would wreck our home place for their profit. As citizens of the Northwest — officials, non-profits, agencies, tribes, businesses and individuals — we can stand together to stop these disastrous plans. The time to convert to a post-coal, post-carbon economy is now.

I hope to see many of us at the scoping hearing on Dec. 13. Wear red to show your opposition to coal shipping.


— Margot Boyer writes, teaches and works in a family-owned small business.


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