This afternoon, city council members unanimously passed a resolution opposing coal transportation through Seattle, making us the seventh city in Washington to bite its nails over proposed terminals that would dramatically increase coal exports in the state.
“We have serious concerns about what a nine-fold increase in uncovered coal trains through Seattle would have on local health and traffic,” said council member Mike O’Brien, chair of the council's Energy and Environment Committee and the resolution's prime sponsor. “For people who live near the rail line, we are concerned about increased exposure to harmful coal dust from the tops of these uncovered coal trains." O'Brien also cited Seattle's commitment to become carbon neutral by 2050.
There are currently four coal export projects under permit review in the Northwest. Collectively, they could annually increase U.S. coal exports by 150 million tons. But as I reported last August, the main nailbiter is the Cherry Point project proposed by cargo terminal company SSA Marine. The company is currently attempting to build the country's largest coal export terminal outside of Bellingham. If they succeed, this port alone would export up to 48 million tons of coal to China, annually—which would amount to roughly nine* open coal trains, each 1.5 miles long, slowly rumbling through Seattle's waterfront every day.
It would basically create a very dusty, clogged waterfront—at a time when we're redesigning the area to be more park-like and usable.
But federal laws prevent local interference with railroads and rail cargo, so there's very little city officials can do but joining Bainbridge Island, Camas, Edmonds, Marysville, and other cities in voicing their opposition and calling for an environmental study to assess the risks and impacts of the proposed terminals. “Seattle could be the cleanest, greenest city in the world and we will be failing in our efforts to prevent climate change if we don’t speak out against efforts like this to ship tens of millions of tons of coal to China and India,” O’Brien said.
A site-specific environmental study is expected to begin on the proposed Cherry Point terminal this summer.
*When I spoke with anti-coal-train activists last year, their estimate was 18 trains per day, but that estimate appears to have changed, according to this website.