Stop Coal Exports Through the Gorge

Photo:  Julie Coop

Take Action to Stop Coal Exports!

UPDATE: Oregon’s Department of State Lands (DSL) announced it has denied plans for a coal export terminal on the Columbia River in Boardman. The Coyote Island terminal would have transported 8.8 million ton of coal per year through the Columbia River Gorge. Friends of the Columbia Gorge applauds the DSL for protecting river recreation fishing, treaty rights and the climate by denying this application.

Our heartfelt thanks go out to our allies in the Power Past Coal coalition, as well as everyone who submitted a public comment, signed a petition, attended a hearing or called Gov. John Kitzhaber. This victory belongs to all of you - and, of course, to the Gorge. Read the DSL's press release on the permit denial.

Background

There are two remaining proposals to build coal export terminals in the Pacific Northwest. Both proposals involve transporting coal through the Columbia River Gorge by rail from the open pit mines of the Powder River Basin in Wyoming and Montana to terminals in Oregon and Washington for export to Asia. If coal export plans go forward, U.S. coal exports would double, resulting in 18 loaded (plus 18 unloaded) coal trains, each more than one mile in length, moving through the Columbia River Gorge every day. Coal is transported in open-top cars and each car loses about one pound of coal dust per mile. The resulting toxic coal dust, in addition to diesel emissions from locomotive engines, pose a huge threat to air quality, water quality, plant and wildlife habitat and human health in the Gorge.

Rail capacity through the Columbia Gorge is near its limit. To accommodate this significant increase in rail traffic, new tracks would likely need to expand into environmentally sensitive areas. River access would be effectively cut off at many sites due to increased rail traffic and the accompanying delays would hurt local businesses and risk potentially delaying arrival of emergency vehicles such as fire fighters and paramedics. Coal export does not provide any additional energy to our community and it comes at a terrible cost to our health, environment and public safety.

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Proposals

Map of proposals
Gateway Pacific Terminal
Where: Cherry Point, near Bellingham, WA
Developers: SSA Marine, Peabody Energy
Coal: 48 million tons per year
Trains: 18 per day
Millennium Bulk Terminal
Where: Longview, WA
Developers: Ambre Energy and Arch Coal
Coal: 44 million tons per year
Trains: 18 per day

Proposals to export coal from the Port of St. Helens, OR, and the Port of Coos Bay, OR, have been shelved as interested companies backed out due to cost and logistical issues with the sites. In August 2014, the Oregon Department of State Lands, citing violations of tribal fishing rights, rejected a crucial permit for Ambre Energy's Morrow Pacific coal trains and barges proposal, effectively killing the project. This project would have moved 8.8 million tons of coal per year on immense barges through the Columbia River Gorge.

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Impacts to the Gorge

Coal Dust

  • According to BNSF Railway, each car loses between 500 and 2,000 pounds of coal dust in transport from the Powder River Basin, or about one pound per mile.
  • With 120 cars per train, each coal train loses about 10,200 pounds of coal as it travels 85 miles through the Gorge.
  • Currently, there are several coal trains per week traveling through the Gorge. Evidence of fugitive coal dust and debris can be found throughout the Gorge anywhere near the Burlington Northern Sante Fe tracks.
  • Every coal train passing through the Gorge is polluting sensitive plant and wildlife habitat, wetlands, tributary streams and the Columbia River with coal dust and debris.

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Health and Safety

  • Health Impacts as compiled by 160 Whatcom Co. doctors against coal trains.
  • Prolonged exposure to coal dust has been associated bronchitis, emphysema, toxic heavy metals.
  • Exposure to diesel particulate matter is tied to lung inflammation, cancer, asthma (a leading health cost and more harmful to children).
  • Noise pollution from the rumbling and whistles of trains is not only annoying; it also has been linked to problems with the nervous system.
  • Delays at rail crossings can hold up medical service response times.
  • Higher rates of train derailments because of the number of trains sharing the tracks AND coal dust sticking to the tracks.

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Economic Impacts

  • Excessive train delays block access to downtown businesses in some communities.
  • Frequent train and whistle noise lowers property values.
  • Gorge visitors are less likely to stay or buy property in adjacent communities due to quantity of rail traffic and related coal and diesel pollution.
  • Asian markets are volatile and previous attempts to export coal from the northwest have failed: Sightline Institute.
  • Ambre Energy, the company behind both the Longview proposal in Washington and the Morrow Pacific Project in Oregon, is a highly unstable company on shaky financial ground: Sightline Institute.

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Fish and Wildlife Impacts

  • Coal trains and dust would impact wetlands, streams and rivers throughout the Columbia River Gorge.
  • Increased train traffic would increase wildlife mortality from collisions on the tracks.

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Recreation Impacts

  • River access would be effectively cut off at many sites by trains.
  • Columbia Gorge Windsurfing Association and the Columbia Gorge Kite boarding Association have passed resolutions outlining their significant concerns with these projects.

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Scenic Impacts

  • Constant coal train traffic would mar scenic views.
  • Clouds of coal dust and diesel emissions would impair visibility in the Columbia River Gorge.

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Global Impacts

  • Air pollution from Asia drifts to the Northwest in as little as five days and 18-24% of the mercury pollution found on Mt. Bachelor can be traced back to coal power plants in Asia.
  • No matter where coal is burned, it is a dirty and dangerous form of energy and the leading cause of catastrophic climate change.
  • We have made huge strides toward ending reliance on coal in the Northwest, but if we do not act globally the impacts of climate change will be irreversible.
  • According to a recent report, coal exports is one of the largest threats to climate in the world, and the biggest climate threat in the US: Greenpeace International

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Coal Dust in the Gorge Today

Friends of the Columbia Gorge has received numerous reports from individuals witnessing coal dust coming from trains in the Gorge. There are currently several coal trains per week that traveling through the Gorge to the Centralia coal-fired power plant in Washington and coal export terminals in British Columbia.

This Gorge resident describes a terrifying encounter with a coal train and its debris while driving on Washington SR 14:

Have you had a run-in with coal dust in the Gorge? Tell us about it!

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Take Action with Us

Contact Governor Inslee.

Are you a Washingtonian? Make sure our new Governor gets the message: he needs to stand strong against coal exports through the Gorge.

Governor's Citizen Hotline:  1-360-902-4111

Sample Script:

Sample Script: My name is (First and Last Name) and I live in (City and State). I'm calling to urge Governor Inslee to do everything in his power to stop coal export proposals from moving forward including joining Governor Kitzhaber in Oregon and local leaders across Washington in the call for an area-wide Environmental Impact Statement to be conducted on all five of the proposed export terminals in the Northwest. Coal exports threaten my community, special places like the Columbia River Gorge and the global climate. Thank you.

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