Coal protesters rally in Helena before heading to Spokane – Helena Independent Record, Dec. 4, 2012

December 5, 2012

Categories: Climate change, Coal, Fossil Fuels, Landowner Rights, News, Northern Plains Resource Council

By EVE BYRON Independent Record

About 25 people gathered at the steps of the state Capitol in Helena Tuesday morning as part of the ongoing battle to halt coal exports to China from the Powder River Basin in southeast Montana.

The group was on its way from Billings to an Army Corps of Engineers public hearing in Spokane, Wash., to try to persuade the federal agency to include effects on Montanans in an Environmental Impact Statement. The Corps is gathering public comment across Washington state as part of a proposal to build a coal export port at Cherry Point, and the group in Helena said they wanted their voices to also be heard.

“The Army Corps of Engineers will get a busload of Montanans coming to their hearing today,” said Kate French, a member of the Northern Plains Resource Council’s Sleeping Giant branch in Helena. “We are loud and not that used to being polite and not used to being ignored.

“We want to make a loud and clear statement that Montana shouldn’t be ignored and we will not be ignored.”

Rally organizers said they had left Billings on a bus around 4 a.m. with about 20 ranchers, Native Americans and others, picking up more people along their route. They expected to double their numbers with a stop in Missoula before heading toward the hearing in Spokane.

“These energy resources are being mined in Wyoming and Montana and shipped to China and other Asian countries,” said Beth Kaeding of Bozeman. “Those trains don’t magically appear at the Washington/Idaho border.

“Many of our 1,700 Northern Plains members live near the massive coal strip mines and deal on a daily basis with the negative impacts of coal mining to the air, water and how they use their land. … Coal mining is in direct opposition to agricultural productions.”

Pacific International Terminals, which is a subsidiary of SSA Marine, is proposing to build a deep-water marine terminal at Cherry Point in Whatcom County, Wash. The proposed Gateway Pacific Terminal would handle import and export of up to 59 million tons per year of bulk commodities, with the majority of operations involving exporting coal.

The Army Corp of Engineers, the Washington Department of Ecology and Whatcom County are in the scoping period, where they ask other agencies, tribes and the public to comment on what an Environmental Impact Statement should analyze. Examples of possible factors to consider include stormwater, wetlands, air emissions, noise and traffic.

The scoping period runs through January. A draft EIS isn’t expected until sometime in 2014.

In a related project, BNSF Railway Inc. has proposed adding rail facilities adjacent to the terminal site and installing a second track along its six-mile Custer Spur.

It’s anticipated that the shipping port will increase train traffic from Montana to Washington, but the number of trips is unknown. Kaeding estimates that if about 100 million tons are exported each year, Montana will see 30 more coal trains each day, with 15 loaded trains headed west and 15 empty ones returning.

“There will be health, safety, quality of life, as well as actual financial costs to Montana citizens and communities from this increase in coal train traffic,” Kaeding said.

Chuck Denowh, spokesman for Count on Coal Montana, countered that the Pacific coast ports that they’re rallying against don’t just ship coal; they are also a transportation hub for other Montana commodities, like grain.

“They’re not just protesting against energy producers, they’re standing in opposition to the well-being of all sorts of important Montana industries,” Denowh said. “For the first time ever, Montana holds a geographic advantage over all other coal-producing states because we are the closest to the fast-growing export market. But if Montana is prevented from supplying those markets because new terminal capacity is blocked by environmental groups, those overseas markets will just buy their coal from somewhere else.”

Helena resident Jim Posewitz, who attended the rally, said in his view the coal mining proposal is simply the “capitalists subsidizing the communists, who want to get the cheapest coal to promote their industrialization and take American jobs.”

“The stakes are enormous,” Posewitz said. “As we investigate climate change impacts, that coal should be left in the ground.”

Reporter Eve Byron: 447-4076, or

220 South 27th Street, Suite A
Billings, Montana 59101
(406) 248-1154