Coal Export Threatens a Pacific Northwest Legacy

Train tracks already run along the Columbia. Tracks like these would carry the coal laden trains along the river. Photo: Bryn Fluharty
The Columbia River is a Pacific Northwest legacy. Its mighty waters have inspired songs like the Washington State folk song ‘Roll on, Columbia, Roll on,’ which brings lyrical majesty to the might of a river which provides our region with power, water and recreation.

Having lived in both Washington and Oregon I have many fond memories of the Columbia River. As a child I spent many a vacation paddling along its banks with my brother and scrambling along high cliffs which the river has carved out over a millennia. Recently, I have marveled at its beauty while crossing into Oregon and hiking and climbing through the scrub-land at its banks. I now fear that a new threat from the coal industry will compromise this area and spoil it for future generations.

A Growing Threat

This new threat comes from Arch Coal and Peabody Energy, who want to ship millions of tons of dirty coal from the Powder River Basin in Wyoming and bring it to terminals in Washington and Oregon. Open bed trains full of coal and up to a mile-and-a-half long would wind their way along the Columbia each day on their way to ports along the Oregon and Washington Coast. These trains would leave trails of coal dust in their wake. This dust would settle over our lands and into our lungs causing health problems for local communities and the environment.

Port of Morrow

A serine evening on the Columbia in the Tri Cities, just upstream from the Port of Morrow. Photo: Bryn Fluharty
The Port of Morrow is one of the six proposed terminals. The EPA has stated this terminal “has the potential to significantly impact human health and the environment.” It is for this reason that they have asked the Corps of Engineers to do a thorough review of the consequences of coal export through ports here in the northwest.

The coal dust and diesel pollution from the trains are the main concerns. Coal dust from the trains settles on the water, soil and vegetation, harming species like endangered salmon. The salmon runs that are dependent upon the Columbia River are already endangered by habitat loss and would be further stressed from this pollution. Coal dust can have significant impacts on human health as well: lung damage, aggravation of existing respiratory diseases such as asthma, pneumoconiosis, bronchitis and emphysema are all possible results of breathing coal dust.

The Port of Morrow is only the first of the at least six proposed projects, all of which would have similar impacts to our region. If implemented these projects would scar this area, compromising the water and the air of an area that is part of our regional heritage.

Moving Forward

We must take a stand against coal and tell our decision makers that they must stop these projects and promote a healthy environment and healthy communities. If you live in Oregon please contact Governor Kitzhaber and tell him that you do not want dirty coal brought through your communities or you can Take Action through the National Wildlife Federation. You can also learn more about these projects and their possible impacts by attending the rally in Portland – May 7th, 12pm in Pioneer Square, featuring Robert F. Kennedy Jr.