Coal Exports Compromise the Clean History of the Pacific Northwest

Wanapum dam and reservoir on the Columbia near Vantage, WA (Photo by Bryn Fluharty)
The wind whips around me as I gaze out at the Columbia River from high atop a bluff. The setting sun illuminates the red rock walls that soar up from the river in a soft red light. The air is alive with the smell of the sage brush and the sounds of birds. Across the river I can see the long, graceful arms of windmills turning in the wind. To my left the Wanapum Dam’s turbines use the waters of the mighty river to churn out clean energy to local communities. I am proud of the work that my state has done to promote and use renewable energy sources like hydro, wind and solar. Here with the dam and the windmills the air is fresh and sweet, smelling of the sagebrush and dry earth, unmarred by the pollutants of energy like coal.

Cleaning up Our Act

From the massive hydroelectric dams that bisect our rivers to the graceful windmills which have begun to spring up throughout the region; Washington and Oregon have always been leaders in renewable energies. Today more than 60 percent of Washington’s power comes from hydro and we continue to expand markets in areas such as solar, wind and tidal energy. In Oregon, the largest wind project in the nation is under construction and they are home to the first wave power farm in the country.

Solar panels in Eastern Washington (photo by Bryn Fluharty)
We are also taking specific efforts to eliminate coal from our environment. Washington Governor Christine Gregoire recently signed a bill that would shut down the last coal fired power plant in Washington. These efforts are improving our local environment, improving our economy, creating jobs and helping to fight Global Warming.

The Proposal

This same river that provides our region with clean energy like hydro is now possibly also be used to support boatloads of the dirtiest fuel on the planet, coal. There are currently six proposed export ports throughout Washington and Oregon that would ship coal from the Powder River Basin in Wyoming and Montana to ports in Asia. This coal would then be burned, emitting CO2 into the atmosphere and further fueling Global Warming.

The Irony of it All

Irony abounds at the Port of Morrow in Oregon where a new biofuel refinery will begin using poplar trees, wheat straw and cornstalks to make ethanol. This community may soon be home to another type of energy, coal. The project would use the Columbia to barge large amounts of coal through the region, threatening the health of communities and the environment along its route. It has created enough concern that the EPA among others have asked for an Environmental Impact Statement for this and the other proposed projects.

Windmills are generating more and more energy for the region (photo by Bryn Fluharty)

Moving Forward

As a native ‘Seattleite’ I have always been proud of my state and its forward thinking moves to help combat issues like Global Warming. Should these projects go through it would go against all of the hard work that we have done to clean up our energy. Our lands and waters will be used as a means for coal companies to undermine our strong environmental record, compromise our environment and communities, and further Global Warming. Political leaders, cities, and communities are starting to question these projects and speak out against them.

We need to get off coal and move towards a cleaner future and help the rest of the world to do the same. We must leave this world a better place for future generations who can say that today we have stood up for our environment, wildlife, and the planet and helped to protect them instead of further degrading them. Speak up for wildlife and tell your elected officials that you don’t want the Northwest to be a portal for dirty coal!