Beyond Coal

Spokane – Coal’s Conveyor Belt?

Big Coal will make huge profits, China will get cheap coal, and Spokane will pay the price.
In response, we’re organizing on-the-ground efforts to raise awareness of this issue and to participate in the regulatory processes surrounding it.

Coal train through downtown Spokane - 2012

Coal train through downtown Spokane – 2012

The Problem:
The world’s biggest coal companies want to ship a hundred million tons of coal a year to Asia through Northwest ports – spreading toxic coal dust in dozens of the Northwest’s rail communities (including Spokane), clogging our railroads and ports, risking our families’ health, polluting our air and water, and stoking the climate crisis.

As of July 2013, here is the status of the proposed export facilities:

  • Gateway Pacific Terminal at Cherry Point near Bellingham, WA – under Environmental Review
  • Longview, WA – scoping for Environmental Review under way – COMMENT PERIOD IS OPEN
  • Grays Harbor, WA – REVOKED proposed coal terminals
  • St. Helens, OR –  shelved proposed coal terminals
  • Boardman, OR –  under Environmental Review
  • Coos Bay, OR – shelved proposed coal terminals

Why is coal export a bad idea?

Coal is the dirtiest fossil fuel, by far. Across the country, Americans are turning to cleaner energy and phasing out coal power. Because of that, the coal industry has come up with a new plan: strip-mine coal in Montana and Wyoming, transport it on long coal trains through Northwest cities and towns, ship it on massive cargo ships off the West Coast, and sell it to overseas.

Coal companies currently have three proposals to export coal out of Oregon and Washington communities, which would add up to 100 million metric tons of coal a year. Shipping up to 100 million metric tons of coal a year through West Coast would clog our railroads, ports, and roads, risk our families’ health, pollute our air and water, hurt local economies and continue to stoke the climate crisis.

The dirty truth on proposed ports in Washington and Oregon:

  • over 100 million tons of coal annually
  • over 40 coal trains per day
  • each train over a mile long
  • each train loaded with 15,000 tons of coal


More Pollution and Health Effects:

These trains would rumble out of the Powder River Basin in Wyoming and Montana cutting through Idaho and Washington belching diesel exhaust, spewing coal dust and diminishing a quality of life that people in Spokane and the Inland Northwest have come to expect.

Exporting pollution to Asia means more environmental problems here at home, including contamination of our local air and water.

  • Diesel exhaust emissions from the many trains required to move tens of millions of tons of coal contain more than 40 toxic substances including arsenic, benzene and formaldehyde, and can cause serious health problems including cancer, asthma, heart attacks, and infant deaths.
  • When coal is burned in dirty and dangerous coal-fired power plants across the Pacific, the pollution drifts back across the ocean and threatens the health of people throughout the Western United States, including right here in the Pacific Northwest.


More Traffic Congestion and Longer Waits at Railroad Crossings:

A 50% increase in the amount of trains through Spokane will further congest traffic at every railroad crossing in Spokane, delay emergency slow response times for police, firefighters and other first responders, impact transport of valuable Washington-grown and manufactured products. 

Spokane has nothing to gain and everything to lose. We are the middle man in this filthy scheme as every coal train heading west will roll through our city. We will see no economic benefit while our aquifer and rivers risk contamination, our air quality will diminish threatening the health of our families and community and our own homegrown products may not make it to market.

 The Solution:   STOP THE COAL TRAINS!

From Spokane to Seattle and Bellingham to Bellevue, concerned citizens are joining forces to let coal companies know that Washington will not be the conveyor belt for filthy coal.

Emissions from coal plants:

  • cost the U.S. over $62 billion in health care
  • kill 23,000 people each year
  • release dangerous pollutants such as mercury
  • contribute massively to climate change


Washington has a long and proud history of economic growth through innovation and a commitment to clean energy.  We must continue to strengthen and expand these 21st century economic drivers – not support a dangerous industry like filthy coal.

Riverkeeper is a proud member of Power Past Coal.