Groups call for comprehensive review of coal exports – March 19, 2012

March 19, 2012

Categories: Coal, News, Northern Plains Resource Council

By Northern Plains Resource Council

BILLINGS, Mont. — A permit application made today for a huge coal shipping facility near Bellingham, Wash., has repercussions that will be felt by communities across Montana. SSA Marine submitted an application to build a facility capable of exporting 48 million tons of Powder River Basin coal per year from Montana and Wyoming to Asia.

Community and environmental leaders across the Northwest are calling on decision-makers and agencies leading the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) process to study the full range of community, environmental, and economic impacts of the proposed Gateway Pacific Terminal at Cherry Point, Wash. The increase in rail traffic would impact public health and safety and pose economic costs to communities across Montana and the Northwest.

“You can’t just draw a line around Cherry Point and Whatcom County, Washington. Coal export has serious consequences for families and communities along the entire rail line,” said Ed Gulick, Past Chair of Northern Plains Resource Council and a Billings architect. Northern Plains is a grassroots conservation and family agriculture group based in Billings. “For cities and towns two states up the line it’s hard to find an upside. Montanans would face many health and traffic impacts and other costs not borne by railroad and coal companies, yet we’d see none of the economic benefits promised by the coal companies.”

Coal companies eventually plan to ship up to 160 million tons of Powder River Basin coal to Asia a year if enough coal export facilities are built in Oregon and Washington. This would triple the number of trains rolling through Montana. As U.S. demand for coal decreases, coal companies are looking to Asia to prop up U.S. production. Montana communities will experience more pollution from diesel fumes and coal dust; increased traffic congestion; delays in emergency response; and expensive infrastructure changes that taxpayers (not the railroads, coal companies nor Asian countries) likely will end up paying for.

In a letter to the agencies leading the EIS process — the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Washington State Dept. of Ecology, and Whatcom County Planning and Development Services – Northern Plains asked that the scope of the Environmental Impact Statement needed for the Cherry Point coal facility be expanded to include studying impacts on Montanans living along and near coal railroad tracks.

“Northern Plains is formally and respectfully requesting that the scope of this EIS fully and completely include the connected and cumulative actions, issues, and concerns of citizens in the areas where the coal will be strip mined and along the rail lines that will be used to transport the coal to the port at Cherry Point, Washington.

“As part of this EIS process, we are requesting that scoping hearings be held in the states and communities impacted by this project in connected and cumulative ways, specifically communities in Montana. We recommend scoping hearings in at least Billings, Bozeman, Helena, and Missoula.”

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