Full Speed Ahead for Coal Train Opposition

The battle over exporting coal is a crossroads for the Pacific Northwest. Will the region stay its course toward clean energy, or become a global trafficking hub for the most dangerous fossil fuel?
Westin Hotel photo courtesy of Rainforest Action Network

Rainforest Action Network projects "Welcome to the Port of Poverty and Pollution" on the downtown Seattle Westin Hotel where a Ports conference was being held in September, 2011.

Photo courtesy of Rainforest Action Network.

A broad coalition has mobilized against a massive scheme to export coal from Montana to Asian markets through Pacific Northwest ports. Six export terminals proposed for Northwest sites could, collectively, ship up to 150 million tons of coal a year.

The Obama administration has opened vast new tracts of public land in the Powder River Basin to coal mining, at lease rates far below market value and even further below the true cost of the coal. Coal giants including Peabody and Arch are behind the coal export proposals, with the backing of Goldman-Sachs and other Wall Street partners.

But opposition is widespread. The organizers of the Power Past Coal campaign have been running full speed to keep up with the groundswell of local resistance, from the coal fields of Montana, to communities along the train route, to coastal towns in Washington and Oregon where giant export terminals are proposed. 

More than 170 physicians in Whatcom County, Wash., joined “Whatcom Docs” to oppose the proposed Gateway Pacific Terminal where coal would be shipped via the port city of Bellingham. “We believe that the health impacts would be substantial, including increased rates of many diseases and increased death rates directly attributable to this project,” said Frank James, a family physician and public health officer. 

The coal industry argues that jobs would be created as a result of coal exports, but opponents point to hidden costs and loss of quality of life. The Western Organization of Resource Councils’ report Heavy Traffic Ahead forecasts substantial impacts to communities across the region, including billions of dollars in public funding to upgrade infrastructure and mitigate congestion. 

Deepwater Horizon photo courtesy of U.S. Coast Guard
Is There Another Way?
The oil-dependent economy Romney supports is a step toward a less stable, more costly future. Renewables and energy efficiency offer real hope.

Power generation from coal, the biggest source of human-caused CO2 emissions, dropped by 19 percent in the United States last year, thanks to the growth of clean energy sources and successful campaigns to reduce coal use. But enormous new investments in coal-burning infrastructure in Asia threaten to send humanity sailing over the cliff of dangerous climate disruption. The International Energy Agency warns that without a dramatic shift in energy infrastructure investment, we will “lose forever” the chance to avoid catastrophic climate disruption.

The coal export battle is a crossroads for the Northwest. Will the region stay its course toward clean energy, sustainable development, and healthy communities, or become a global trafficking hub for the most dangerous fossil fuel? 

Find Power Past Coal at powerpastcoal.org.

  • Bill McKibben used to think that lack of action to stabilize the climate came from widespread apathy, denial, or comfort with the status quo. Here’s what made him change his mind.

  • Occupiers, Tea Partiers, landowners, and environmentalists are challenging construction of the Keystone XL pipeline’s Gulf Coast segment—together.

  • College students across the country are working to eject coal from their campuses and their communities.