Don’t limit coal impact study

The OlympianNovember 27, 2013 

Coal train Whatcom County

A mile-long coal train waits south of Blaine, Friday morning, Oct. 11, 2013, to cross the border and unload in Canada.


Attorneys general for the states of North Dakota and Montana have asked our Department of Ecology to limit the scope of its environmental impact statement on building a coal export terminal at Longview. The DOE should resist this pressure.

The public comment period — which ended Nov. 18 — on those environmental effects the DOE should review generated more than 160,000 comments, mostly in favor of studying a full range of impacts.

The list of those supporting a broad study includes Gov. Jay Inslee, Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber, the National Park Service, and multiple conservation groups and individuals. There is strong public support for assessing the impact of coal trains from the mines to the proposed Pacific Coast terminals.

Washingtonians need to know the impact of frequent super-long trains passing through the state’s many grade-level crossings. That could create unimaginable traffic congestion, and possibly life-threatening situations if first responders are blocked during an emergency.

We don’t know the extent of pollution caused by drifting coal dust off uncovered railroad cars. But we do know from a Sierra Club lawsuit that BNSF data estimates each 120-ton railway car loses somewhere between 250 pounds to 700 pounds of dust and chucks.

The Longview region could benefit from new family-wage jobs. Cowlitz County has an overall 60 percent free and reduced lunch population, one way to measure low income.

But the overwhelming concern expressed at the public hearings and comments to the DOE deserve a broad analysis, and it is the most logical pathway to achieving clarity on this issue.

The DOE has already said it will examine the bigger picture for the proposed coal export dock at Cherry Point, near Bellingham. It should do the same for Longview.

When it comes to balancing the regional economic benefits against health and environment concerns, we’ll be better served by having more information than not enough.

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