Coal Exports Travel Too Close to Our Wildlife and Iconic Places

Coal, once a keystone to the American identity, is having trouble staying competitive. With natural gas prices low and the demand for responsible energy options high, coal no longer has a solid place in the American market. So now coal companies are looking to take their business overseas. Coal exports across the Pacific Northwest aim to transport coal from America to China, where demand is higher and pollution protections are weaker .

via Flickr user Steve Tatum
Coal export railway via Flickr user Steve Tatum
Coal is being stripped from the Powder River Basin in Montana and Wyoming and moved on open rail cars to ports along the Columbia River. It is then shipped overseas to be burned in Chinese coal fired power plants. Arch Coal, Peabody Energy, and other coal giants are trying to ship 150 million tons or more of coal per year through Washington and Oregon. The coal railways they use in transport disrupt landscapes, wildlife and national parks. And of course, coal exports are not without accidents. Last March, a train bound for Portland, Oregon spilled 80 tons of coal after derailing in Missoula, Montana. And in 2012, there was a 30-car crash in Mesa, Washington, which, witnesses say, poured “a haze of black smoke” into the sky.

A Dangerous Path

But what might be the most unsettling, is that coal export railways across the Pacific Northwest cut through some of the most beautiful landscape this country has to offer. Uncovered coal cars pass through sensitive ecological areas such as The Columbia River Gorge and Glacier National Park. These coal railways pollute the air and water and disturb vulnerable wildlife habitat.

NWF recently released this interactive map where you can clearly see what wildlife ranges and protected areas are in the path of coal railways.

NWF: coal exports map

Dozens of wildlife refuges, national parks, and pristine spaces are caught in the cross-hairs of the coal railway. In Livingston, Montana, located just outside the iconic Yellowstone National Park, coal railways run right through the center of town. Fifteen trains a day pass through Livingston and are a constant disruption to anglers, hunters, and small town community members.

Columbia River Gorge
The Colmbia River Gorge. Photo via flickr user Keith Carey
The Columbia River Gorge, a 292,500 acre area in Oregon that offers fishing, biking, hunting and various other recreational activities, is also in the path of the coal railway. Not only is this area vitally important for the species and wildlife that call it home, but it is also important to the economies and tourism of the nearby towns.

The National Park Service is very concerned by the impact of coal exports on parks, wildlife and air quality.  Earlier this year, the Service submitted scoping comments on potential coal export projects:

A review of existing rail and shipping routes indicates coal export could affect up to a dozen NPA (National Park Service) units in Montana, Idaho, Oregon and Washington.

Coal export through the Pacific Northwest terminals could potentially affect air quality in four Class I areas- Glacier, Mount Rainier, North Cascades and Olympic National Parks (NP).

The National Park Service recognizes the threat that coal exports has to our national parks, tourism industry and air quality in the Pacific Northwest.

The three million tons of coal that are currently transported on railways annually are already altering the wildlife habitats and communities of the Pacific Northwest. These railways come dangerously close to national parks, wildlife refuges and iconic American landscapes.

Take Action Button

Take action now to protect  these areas by continuing to stop new coal mining in the Powder River Basin and new export facilities in the Northwest.