Montanans go to Spokane to argue against increased coal trains – Missoulian, Dec. 4, 2012

December 5, 2012

Categories: Coal, Events, News, Northern Plains Resource Council

041512 coal trains1 kw.jpg

Steve Thompson has lived near the railroad tracks in Whitefish for 22 years, and he doesn’t want more coal to add to the traffic increase he already sees on the line.

On Tuesday, Thompson boarded a bus in Montana to travel to Spokane to tell the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to consider the Big Sky state as it moves forward with an environmental impact statement for a coal export terminal in Washington. He was one of 45 passengers, some from as far away as Baker and Lame Deer.

“It is the ethical issue of our time,” Thompson said shortly before hopping on board. “The idea of strip mining in the beautiful Tongue River Valley, building a railroad through the federal condemnation of ranches that have been with families for generations, giving that land to private industry … so we can ship coal to China and increase the carbon emissions? It’s absolutely unconscionable.”

Some ports in Oregon and Washington plan expansions in order to ship more coal to Asia. Coal will travel Montana rail lines to reach Cherry Point and other West Coast export facilities, and the Corps is holding public hearings in Washington as part of an environmental impact statement.

The Northern Plains Resource Council, which organized the bus trip, is one conservation group calling on the Corps to consider impacts in Montana from an estimated 30 to 64 more coal trains a day. It made note of more diesel fumes, noise and coal dust; possible delays for emergency vehicles at traffic crossings; and more accidents and derailments.

“We’re going to Spokane to tell the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers that the environmental impact statement they are preparing for the Cherry Point project must include the cumulative impacts to Montana,” said Beth Kaeding, past chairwoman of the council. “All the coal trains that are going to the ports on the West Coast come through Montana from the Powder River Basin.”

In Missoula at Eastgate Shopping Center, more than a dozen protesters joined other Montanans, some who had gotten up early enough to board at 4 a.m. in Billings. Kaeding said passengers included people from Baker, Lame Deer, Livingston, Great Falls, Helena, areas of the Flathead and Missoula.

Janet McMillan said activists are working hard to draw attention to the fact that increases in coal traffic are going to affect communities all across Montana. The folks on the bus will let the Corps know the state matters in the environmental reviews.

“Our little mantra is Asia gets the energy, corporations make the money and Montanans pay the cost,” McMillan said.

Jan Hoem, with Montana Elders for a Livable Tomorrow, said she wants decision-makers to look at photographs of cities in China filled with smog from burning coal and know that those pollutants are being carried on air currents to North America. Montanans, she said, will be living with the consequences for decades.

“This decision that they’re going to make is probably the most important decision the Army Corps of Engineers will make in their lifetime,” Hoem said.

Hoem, whose husband already was on the way to Spokane with a car load of people who also planned to speak at the meeting, said she wants to request overpasses be built and double-armed rail guards be installed to accommodate the additional traffic, if it should come. She said it’s important to voice those needs early in the process.

“Once the corporations get what they want, they won’t give us a thing,” Hoem said.

Reporter Keila Szpaller can be reached at @KeilaSzpaller, 523-5262, or on

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