Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Coal trains may overrun Pierce County

By Ethan Manthey, Guest Columnist

The proposed coal export terminals for Washington and Oregon ports are absurd. Public health conditions, environmental protection and Native American self-determination issues  are  at stake.

For a variety of reasons, less coal is being burned to produce our country’s electricity. In a last-ditch effort to sell their unwanted product, American coal companies Peabody Energy and Arch Coal, as well as Australian-based Ambre Energy have teamed up. They formulated a scheme that would get their product to the one market in which terrible air quality  is only a concern when the Olympics are in town: China.

The  coal comes from  vast strip mines in Montana and Wyoming. If this new plan  is finalized, mines will begin to extract 150 million tons of coal per year that would travel by rail to  ports in Washington and Oregon.

One-hundred and fifty million tons of coal equates to 60 trains, each one and a half miles long and each traveling to the west coast every day.

One of the railroads responsible for delivering this coal, Burlington Northern Sante Fe, found that 500 pounds of coal are blown off each train car along the way.

Coal dust would fill the air in local communities, which has been linked to long-term health problems like lung and heart disease, chronic asthma and cancer.

Now we’re looking at 500 pounds of dust from each train car, with 120 cars per train, multiplied by 60 trains per day, running 365 days a year. Can I get a math major to help?
Since there are no ports large enough to handle their massive export plans, the companies want to build new ports in the Puget Sound .

At one such proposed port site known as Cherry Point, the plan is to fill in swamps and cut down forests to make way for a 10-acre site covered in piles of coal up to 85 feet tall. 
Cherry Point is a forested, undisturbed rocky shoreline of Puget Sound just north of Bellingham and claimed by the Lummi Native American Nation.

When it rains and the wind blows, water and air would mix with the mountains of coal, damaging a much greater area of the Puget Sound than the coal companies are willing to take responsibility for. Not to mention the toll to anyone working or living nearby.

Lutes need to care because many of these coal trains would be traveling through our home in Pierce County and the ships would sail in our Puget Sound.

This project is not finalized and it doesn’t have to be, not if you want to do something about it.
This is a textbook case of a company chasing razor — thin profit margins even if it means harming unknown numbers of people. Community members may contract breathing problems, natural sites may be permanently destroyed and native groups such as the Lummi will be denied self-determination of ancestral land.

If you have a problem with strip mining, kids getting asthma, a polluted Puget Sound or international corporations running through our county with no regard for our well-being, then you have a problem with coal exports. To help, you can go to http://www.powerpastcoal.org for more information and look out for public hearings concerning the issue starting in the next couple weeks. Let’s demand some respect.