This Coal-Train is no Jazz Saxophonist

Coal is a dirty business.

This was made abundantly clear to me just last week as I was enjoying the view from my living room window. I was startled to see a very long coal train winding its way north along the Puget Sound shoreline. This is, unfortunately, not a new sighting, but remains a startling image three months after I first noticed it. Since then, I have kept my ears open for coal stories in the Pacific Northwest. Here’s a smattering of what I’ve found.

Increasing amounts of U.S. coal are bound for export to Asian markets.

In 2011, the largest coal company in the world and the second largest company in the United States – Peabody Energy and Arch Coal – reached agreements with coal export facilities in Bellingham (WA), Longview (WA), and Prince Rupert (BC) to increase significantly the amount of coal exported to fast-growing Asian markets. The source of the coal will be Montana and Wyoming’s Powder River Basin, one of the largest coal reserves in the world. On their way to coastal export sites, train after train of coal will wind its way from the Powder River Basin, through the rural interior West, and finally, through rural and urban communities in the Pacific Northwest.

Westshore coal terminal
The Westshore terminal is burning coal just over the border in Canada. (Paul K. Anderson)

Increased coal export in the Pacific Northwest would disrupt our clean energy future, health, and environment. 

Investment of scarce resources in coal export contributes to the carbon emissions associated with global warming and makes regional efforts to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions more challenging. Coal dust from the open-air railcars that would pass through our communities would increase exposure to toxic heavy metals. Climate Solutions, a regional non-profit actively involved in the Power Past Coal campaign, states:

The proposed terminal site at Cherry Point would span 1200 acres, fill 141 acres of wetlands and sit directly on herring grounds, which are a primary food source for Chinook salmon. Salmon in turn are the main food source for imperiled Puget Sound Orcas.

You can do something about it!

Join Power Past Coal this Saturday at Moving Planet’s Day of Action in Seattle’s South Lake Union neighborhood. Turn your energy into action at the Take Action Workshops from 10 AM to 12 PM. Rally with Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn and other Seattle leaders to advertise your enthusiasm at 2 PM. And don’t forget the Tar Sands Flashmob at 11:30!

For more information on what the Pacific Regional Center is up to, check out our Facebook page.

I am contemplating making this blog the first in a short series exploring key issues around coal export. A discussion of wildlife impacts or economic impacts could follow. What would you like to see next?