The rest of the Pacific NW has been deep in this fight for some time. Now the battleground is right here in Spokane.
If you “like” Spokane Riverkeeper on Facebook, follow us on Twitter, or listen to my weekly KYRS radio show, you have no doubt heard about the coal train issue. It’s a topic I’ve gotten fairly comfortable talking about recently. But like they say, talk is cheap, so I’m thrilled to announce an upcoming event where you can not only learn more about this issue, but hopefully plug yourselves in to the fight to stop them.
The event is step one of a multi-step process where Spokane and the greater Inland Northwest will have the opportunity to stand up and say “no way, no how, no coal trains!”
Here’s the official invite for this event. Be sure to visit the Facebook event page to RSVP
You may have heard that Big Coal has plans to ship millions of tons of coal through the Pacific Northwest to Asia — spewing toxic coal dust, putting our safety and health at risk, clogging up our railroads and ports, and stoking the climate crisis all the way.
Come learn more about this dirty and dangerous project, and how you can stop it!
What: Spokane Happy Hour event to learn more about Coal Hard Truth
When: Tuesday, August 23rd 6-8 p.m.
Where: Rooftop of the Saranac Building, downtown Spokane, 25 W. Main (http://bit.ly/qRP4Y3)
The event is Free and light snacks and beverages provided – including beer and wine
Introduction of event and framing of issue presented by Paul Dillon and Bart Mihailovich, co-hosts of KYRS’s weekly environmental news and perspective current affairs program Down To Earth. Presentation by Robin Everett of the Sierra Club
Our region is known for our cutting-edge innovation and smart solutions –we can do better than coal.
Here is some more background on this issue:
Multinational coal companies want to ship millions of tons of dirty coal through Washington State to China and other Asian nations looking to feed their rapidly growing energy appetite.
Coal companies would strip mine the coal in the Powder River Basin (Montana and Wyoming), load it into open rail cars and transport it to yet to be determined export terminal locations on the west coast. There are currently proposals for two export locations. The trains carrying the coal would be up to two miles long. They would unload, store and ship the coal overseas where Asian countries would burn it in coal?fired power plants.
Though the export terminal sites are yet to be determined, one thing is already known: if and when they do find places to export the coal, the coal trains will rumble through Spokane spewing diesel particulate and coal dust, clogging up rail lines, congesting train track and road intersections, significantly increasing noise pollution, monopolizing train traffic and the importation and exportation of other commodities, and overall just contributing to diminishing a quality of life that people in Spokane and the Inland Northwest expect.
Exporting coal to Asian markets, and possibly India and now Japan because of their recent nuclear disaster is proving to be an attractive opportunity for coal companies. So attractive, that apparently the health and well being of our own country isn’t be fully considered in this business decision. Exporting coal to other markets for them to burn, makes us extreme accomplices in the contribution to greenhouse gas emissions and global warming. More locally, the state of Washington recently celebrated legislation that will phase out the operation of our state’s only coal-fired power plant – the TransAlta plant in Centralia, WA – by 2025. This will make Washington a coal-free state. However, by exporting coal to Asian markets, we will likely negate any legislation action locally. Coal that is burned in Asia will be picked up by the Pacific jet stream and redistributed back to the western United States as mercury pollution. Thus, making Washington unable to claim itself as a coal-free state…. now, and beyond 2025.
Current plans call for as much as 50 million tons of coal to be shipped through Spokane annually to be burned in Asian coal plants. Burning that much more coal every year would produce more global warming pollution than all the cars in Oregon and Washington combined in one year.
In addition to contributing to global climate change, exporting coal continues us down the path of old fossil fuels and holds us back as a nation and a state from fully exploring, developing and implementing alternative energy resources.
Addiction is hard to break, but we must start down the 12-step process.
Spokane’s economic benefit… NOTHING:
Spokane stands to gain nothing from this activity. We are the middle man in this dirty operation, with no economic benefit for having these coal trains speed through our community belching air pollution and coal dust.
Number of trains:
If both of the proposed coal export terminals on the western side of the state were operating at full capacity, Spokane would experience an increase of rail traffic of about 50%. Currently about 100 trains a day come through Spokane. At full coal export capacity, 48 additional coal trains would pass through Spokane a day – 24 full coal trains loaded out from the Powder River Basin of Wyoming and Montana in route to the export terminals, and 24 empty coal trains headed back from the coast back to the coal source. The trains return empty because once a coal train, always a coal train.
The increase in train traffic would significantly increase the amount of diesel particulate in the air in Spokane. At the current pace of 100 trains a day in Spokane, about 10 tons of diesel particulate matter enters the air. An increase of 48 more trains a day would increase that diesel particulate to 15 tons per year. Toxic pollution from diesel exhaust is linked to stunted lung development, increased probability of heart attacks, lung cancer, worsening asthma and infant mortality.
Coal dust – threat to our health, clean air and water:
Coal dust escaping from open coal trains and storage piles, and diesel exhaust from coal trains and cargo ships, would threaten human health, Spokane’s clean air, and water quality in the Spokane River.
The wide ranging health dangers of coal dust include exposure to toxic heavy metals such as lead, selenium and mercury. Coal dust leads to increased asthma, wheezing and coughing in children.
A comprehensive 2001 study of coal dust emissions in Canada found that the Westshore Terminal near Tsawassen B.C. emits roughly 715 metric tons of coal dust a year. The report states that “coal terminals by their nature are active sources of fugitive dust.” According to the rail operator, BNSF, every coal car can lose as much as 500 pounds of coal dust en route.
In Seward, Alaska, years of failure to control terminal dust have led to a lawsuit under the Clean Water Act. In 2010, the state of Alaska fined the railroad company that delivers the coal to the terminal $220,000 for failing to adequately control dust that dirtied Seward’s scenic harbor
- An increase in train traffic would also create increased noise pollution, traffic congestion, wear and tear of the rail infrastructure and delays in the importing and exporting of other goods and commodities in the area
- Frequent traffic delays at busy rail crossings could clog commuter traffic, delay utility services and slow response times for police, firefighters and other first responder
- Train traffic increase would also increase the risk of fuel leakage in to the Spokane Valley Rathdrum Prairie Aquifer – the sole source of drinking water for nearly 600,000 people in Spokane and Kootenai Counties. The BNSF refueling depot in Hauser, ID which sits right above the aquifer is already a threat to the Aquifer due to prior leaking, so an increase of trains needing to refuel there would enhance that threat
Images: Paul K. Anderson
more images can be found at: http://bit.ly/nucH6O