Coal Shipping Conflict Continues to Heat Up

Evan Manvel

Oregon has been moving away from coal. Our work to reduce reliance on a dirty fossil fuel at the center of our climate crisis is good news.

Unfortunately, as Mike O'Leary pointed out, the coal barons still want to sell their goods, and are looking to ship it to China, perhaps via Oregon. While there are implications for the planet, there are also significant implications locally, including the health dangers of coal dust.

That's in part why mayoral candidate Jefferson Smith took a position against those shipments, first announced here in the comments of BlueOregon. He now has a video on the subject as well. In the video, "Coal Ain't Cool," Jefferson explains his position and four-part plan on this serious issue with a dash of humor (a pedestrian is handily labeled "not a coal train").

Meanwhile, Congressman Peter DeFazio and Commissioner-elect Steve Novick have been making their views on the issue known.

Today a new report argues coal shipment could dramatically impact other rail freight as well as burdening taxpayers. It could increase rail traffic by 187%.

The Oregonian's Scott Learn has the story:

Coal trains destined for planned terminals in Oregon and Washington could gum up already congested lines, increase rail rates for other freight and increase taxpayers' costs to fix rail problems, a report released today by the Western Organization of Resource Councils predicts.

Six Northwest export terminals are on the drawing boards, with plans to ship some 150 million tons of coal a year to fast-growing Asia, up from about 5 million tons annually now through three British Columbia ports. For context: In 2010, trains unloaded about 80 million tons of freight in Oregon and Washington.

"This, make no mistake about it, is a huge, huge increase in volume, like we've never seen before in this part of the world," said Terry Whiteside, a rail consultant based in Montana and one of the report's authors.

The report was commissioned by the Western Organization of Resource Councils, "a regional network of seven grassroots community organizations that include 10,000 members and 38 local chapters." Oregon Rural Action is a member.

There's a key finding:

Total required rail improvements in Washington, Oregon, Montana, Wyoming and Idaho could exceed $5 billion. The railroads... would pick up costs for many line upgrades. But state and local governments "would likely bear the brunt" of local improvements to compensate for train traffic, spending "hundreds of millions" on projects such as rail bypasses and adding overpasses to separate trains from roads.

That's real money from taxpayers. Maybe not CRC mega-project money, but hundreds of millions of dollars we don't have.

The Oregonian is on this beat, and the issue will likely arise before local governments before too long, as it did in Seattle. More, undoubtedly, to come.

  • (Show?)

    Disclaimer: I've endorsed Jefferson, as has Bike Walk Vote, a group I co-chair.

  • (Show?)

    Vancouver (WA) city council is voting on this next Monday.

    Camas and Washougal already have.

  • (Show?)

    And the Eugene Register-Guard came out against the shipments:

    But once the talking is done, it’s hard to imagine how any councilor could do anything but vote to put Eugene on record as opposing the industrial-scale movement of coal by slow-moving trains, some up to 11/2 miles long, through the city.

    Eugene’s coal choice is a no-brainer, even without factoring in this city’s and state’s commitment to reducing the greenhouses gases that are emitted in coal burning and that contribute to global warming. Council members should vote next week to oppose rail shipments of coal through their community.

  • (Show?)

    No public subsidies for this. RRs and coal companies have to be on the hook for all the costs.

    It should be opposed on pubic health grounds completely, but we should also insist on the principle that dirty energy not be allowed to externalize costs it creates onto the commons or the public fisc.

    There should be taxes imposed to pay for public health costs and for mitigating global warming consequences and adapting to them if this goes through. We should demand that to help expose the total cost picture and the issue of externalized costs.

    • (Show?)

      I don't think there's any way to realistically estimate externalized costs of climate change and, even if there were, the number, even in the beginning stages of the climate change era, would be so astronomical as to be unrealistic for any industry, even any government, to bear. Therefore, the only answer is: the coal needs to be left in the ground.

  • (Show?)

    So we are becoming a colony to the far east and China and we get a dollar a ton for our coal on our commonly owned land. Oh boy! All so we can desequester more carbon more quickly to bring on global warming at a faster and faster rate. Oh yeah, and don't forget sending more mercury vapor across the Pacific (from the coal burning) to poison our lakes and streams.

    Daddy, won't you take me back to the good ole' USA.

    I'm sorry my son, the coal trains have hauled it away.

  • (Show?)

    I congratulate Peter DeFazio and Steve Novick, two of the progressive stripe who are in the reality, not righteousness, based community on this issue. And I don't give kudos easily to Peter DeFazio.

    • (Show?)

      The reality, as we see already happening, already on a catastrophic level, is climate change. The situation is, realistically speaking, already so dire that federal executive leadership and its trade reps ought to flout the WTO and refuse to export coal. And all execs and governmental bodies on down from that level ought to take all steps possible to discourage coal, in any way they can.

  • (Show?)

    Love Novick, but he's wrong here.


connect with blueoregon