Friday, November 30, 2012

On Evil Coal

Below is the text of a flyer I wrote to help my neighbors and friends understand the evils of coal and to take action to prevent the evil from spreading. 

Evil Coal….




While we in the Northwest enjoy mostly clean energy (thanks, hydros!), around the nation coal provides about 57% of our electricity.  And, the US has a lot of coal.

We may not be safe from coals, poisons, though.  First, companies are seeking to mine coal from public land in the Powder River Basin in Montana and Wyoming, and send it to Asia via rail to the Pacific Coast.

Second, wherever it is burned, coal puts greenhouse gases into the air when we know that these gases are causing global climate change.

A Utah coal company wants to build a coal transfer station at Boardman to move coal from rail to barge for the trip to Asia. 
The Port of Morrow has made a deal with the Utah company, but the company still needs a permit from the Army Corps of Engineers and several from the state of Oregon.

Coal is dirty.  “Clean Coal” is a lie.  It’s a fossil fuel and when burned, puts greenhouse gases in the air.  It puts radioactive thorium and uranium into the air—far more than do commercial nuclear reactors. 

When mined, it poisons workers and nearby residents, and wildlife.  It kills streams.  Mountaintop removal destroys forests. 

We in the Tri-Cities get our power from BPA. About 2% of it comes from coal. The company that owns the plant in Centralia also does mountaintop removal in Appalachia.  

We are all connected.

Researchers at Harvard Medical School have recently pegged the annual cost of coal, including harm to public health, damage from mining, pollution, and subsidies—at $345 billion annually in the US alone.

Demand in the US for coal is declining, but worldwide, the demand rages.  That’s why companies seek to mine coal from public land in the Powder River Basin of Montana and Wyoming and ship it by rail to West Coast ports – to ship to Asia. 

Two Washington ports and several Oregon ports are considering ports for coal exports. 

One of these is in Boardman.  The US Army Corps of Engineers has regrettably decided to only do an Environmental Assessment, rather than a more rigorous EIS.  The state is holding hearings on the various permits the facility would require.  The comment period closes December 20 on this permit.   

In Bellingham, the environmental review for a proposed port has sparked opposition in the forms of resolutions from the city council and hundreds of demonstrators at public meetings.

Coal on rail lines makes for a bad neighbor. Coal dust is a huge source of respiratory illness.  It also degrades water quality.  Coal dust escapes during transit because the rail cars are overfilled and uncovered.  Coal dust already escapes along Northwest rail lines.
One last point – coal terminals do not produce many jobs.  For example, the proposed coal export terminal at Longwood would occupy 416 acres of heavy industrial waterfront property and produce 70 jobs – less than 0.2 jobs/acre.  By contrast, a site in Troutdale on cleaned up land has a
business supporting 1.1 jobs/acre. Another, in Vancouver, supports 3.4 jobs/acre.

Portland and Los Angeles have already gambled and lost on coal export facilities. 

David and Goliath?

Big Coal is powerful. It has an army of lobbyists and lots of subsidies.  You may have seen slick commercials about coal. 
But many organizations and communities are speaking out.  EPA has taken long overdue steps to regulate this industry more diligently.   The need to curtail greenhouse gases is more widely understood and getting more urgent.  So yes, let’s fight coal. 

What you can do

Ø  Visit

Ø  Visit Sightline Institute

Ø  Urge our legislature to keep I-937 strong (state law for more renewable energy, with targets that utilities don’t like).

Ø  Submit comments on the Boardman proposal.  Hearing in Boardman December 4! We only have until 12/20/12 to comment against the proposed Boardman coal terminal. Please tell the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality to deny the Air Containment Discharge Permits and other state permits that would pave the way for dirty coal exports.   Attend a hearing, or email

Ø  Give money to the groups fighting coal. 
Ø  Get engaged, stay engaged.   Use your First Amendment rights to speech, press, assembly, religion, and petitioning government.
Well!   This has a very local approach, but the resources in links and facts can help you fight coal whereever you are. 
Peace and justice, y'all

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