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Thursday, December 13, 2012

Roughly 3,500 People Crowd Convention Center to Shout About Coal

Posted by on Thu, Dec 13, 2012 at 5:50 PM

  • The Stranger
The scene at the Seattle Convention Center resembles a grim Christmas party: A few dozen green-shirted supporters of Bellingham’s proposed Cherry Point Coal Terminal bob helplessly amidst a sea of thousands of coal protesters clad in bright red shirts that read “Beyond Coal.” Outside in Freeway Park, a Polar Bear and Giant Salmon keep Santa Claus company while behind them, an inflatable earth burns.

State officials are estimating that 3,500 people have arrived for the 4:00 p.m. public meeting on the Cherry Point coal export terminal. This meeting is the last its kind in the state before state Department of Ecology and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers officials determine the range of environmental, health, and economic issues that must be examined in an Environmental Impact Study (EIS) before the proposed terminal is granted its permits to move 54 million metric tons of coal annually from Montana and Wyoming through Washington state, for shipment to China.

: I moved from N Carolina, worked with poor in coal mines in W. Virginia. It’s devastating. We need to stop it. This is the rich making money on the backs of the poor. Judith Atkins, Bellingham resident.
  • The Stranger
  • "I moved from N Carolina, worked with the poor in coal mines in W. Virginia. The effects of coal are devastating. We need to stop this." Judith Atkins, Bellingham resident.
State and federal agencies are looking for public input on four topics:

· A reasonable range of alternatives to the terminal
· An identification of potentially affected resources
· A list of significant unavoidable adverse impacts
· And finally, ways to avoid, minimize, and mitigate those impacts.

Despite the overwhelming turnout, only 150 people will be granted the right to speak before the federal and state officials in huge twin ballrooms at the Convention Center—everyone else will have to submit written comments.

Speakers are chosen through a lottery system, after it was discovered that railroad interests were paying people to stand in line at other public meetings and stump for the proposal. Several city officials are here to represent Seattle’s opposition to coal trains, including Mayor Mike McGinn, King County Executive Dow Constantine, and Seattle City Council members Mike O’Brien, Sally Clark, and Jean Godden. At least one member of the Tacoma City Council and numerous tribal representatives from the Lummi Nation, Nisqually, Tulalip, and Snohomish tribes are here as well.

"We do not support an industry that will damage our economy or cultural heritage, or infringe on our fishing, hunting, and treaty rights," testifies Mel Sheldon of the Tulalip tribe. "This will delay traffic two to three hours daily [in our area]. We stand with our coastal Salish relatives in solidarity. We ask that you not permit a project that significantly impacts our daily life and further erodes our treaty rights. Tulalip says hell no to this project!"

"I appreciate the natural wonders of this state," testifies 12-year-old Rachel Howell. "I like salmon. I like oysters. Global warming is threatening salmon and oysters. I like to ski at Snoqualmie Pass—in my lifetime, I will not be able to ski at Snoqualmie Pass because of global warming. Children are suffering because of global warming. This is the future you’re creating for us an this is not the future we want. It’s pretty simple, even I understand: If you make coal more available, more people will use it."

I try and interview a few of the green shirts but it turns out they are total dicks.

“We have nothing to say to you,” three women tell me when I identify myself as a reporter. “Oh, so you’re not here to publicly explain your support for this proposal?” I ask. “We are, we just prefer to keep our comments private,” they say, stupidly.

Behind them, state officials were reminding the masses not to cheer or boo any of the commenters. I had the strong urge to boo the three green women as they walked away from me, but refrained.

They cheered with signs instead.
  • The Stranger
  • The masses cheered their speakers on with signs instead.

Eventually, a green-wearing man named Herb Krohn is called on to testify. "It’s impossible to consider the cumulative impact of coal trains," says the United Transportation Union representative, as members of the audience throw up signs reading 'RED HERRING.' "It’s purely speculative. There are approximately 5,000 real direct jobs in Washington State from this proposal. Coal is a naturally occurring mineral, the coal dust discharged is minimal and this argument that it impacts health is specious at best...." the rest of his words are drowned out by boos from the audience.

"We’re already feeling the impacts of climate change—global fires last summer, we spent an extra $50 million on fighting fire," explains Representative Joe Fitzgibbon (D-34) when I run into him waiting to testify. "That’s $50 million less we can spend on schools. We’re relocating tribes because of rising sea levels. I think the scope needs to include the climate impact of additional greenhouse gases. Even if coal is burned in China, it needs to be studied here."

For the anti-coal-terminal camp, the goal is to sway the scope of the EIS so that it broadly encompasses the widest array of environmental, health, and economic impacts of the terminal. If issues such as traffic delays, health impacts from coal dust and other pollutants, economic impacts to businesses, tribal fishing and hunting impacts, and the climate impacts of burning 54 metric tons of coal in China are all addressed, protestors hope those cumulative negative impacts will convince state and federal agencies to deny permits for the terminal. Either that, or the mitigation costs will prove too expensive for terminal backers.

More pics and quotes from today's meeting and rally to come... In the meantime, go here if you want to comment on the proposal. The deadline for public comment ends January 21!


Comments (37) RSS

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doesurmindglow 49
I think the core argument is "they're gonna do what they're gonna do anyway." It's like the landowners in Texas that had their property rights revoked so a corporation could build its oil pipeline.

The argument that "they're gonna do what they wanna do anyway, so you're just making yourself feel better" is so hopeless and stupid, and I just don't buy it. Maybe they will do what they want to do anyway. But that doesn't suddenly mean it's okay, and it definitely doesn't mean that we should sit by and be okay with it.

If nothing we do -- say, banning plastic bags -- actually makes any difference, then why fight it? If the coal can go to Canada anyway, why not just go there? If China is just going to get coal from somewhere else, then why not get it there? Something about this doesn't pass the smell test.
Posted by doesurmindglow on December 16, 2012 at 12:52 PM · Report this
doesurmindglow 47
@46: I actually think dust emissions from trains are more likely in some areas -- such as the Gorge, which experiences high winds on a regular basis -- than others. But in either case, I don't think visual observation of the dust (or lack thereof) should be considered sufficient to conclude it doesn't require study. And the fact there is visual observation in some places definitely suggests a need for study.

Again, I'm perfectly willing to accept the conclusion it's a minor issue, and I'll agree it doesn't particularly motivate me personally to oppose coal trains. I'd just like to have a scientific review before we make that conclusion, which luckily our SEPA process does provide for. I think it's actually much more likely the more serious problem is diesel emissions, which present a number of well-documented health concerns. It's only responsible that both should have thorough review before we decide to significantly increase the traffic.

All that being said, I don't agree any victory would be merely symbolic. Blocking a port in Bellingham would alleviate many of the local environmental concerns (ie. the risk of increased diesel pollution and the damage to the marine environment at the terminal site). It's possible they'll just build a port somewhere else, but it is likely to be smaller and at greater expense -- there simply aren't that many undeveloped deepwater port facilities available. The Bellingham port is already much more expensive to site and build than simply providing coal export capacity in Tacoma, Seattle, and Vancouver, all of whom have rejected coal exports long before this fight began.

That means there's less coal available to burn, and what is available is more expensive, which is a victory quantifiable in terms of energy economics. Just slowing exports down also is also likely to have strategic value, from a climate perspective: it allows more time for the rapid advancement of conservation and renewable technologies to continue and the emergence of an environmental movement in China to overcome government resistance, and, probably most importantly to U.S. taxpayers, more time to move legislation for the government price the coal it's selling at market va….

So in short, there is real environmental value to blocking a coal port, because the location of the port itself is an environmental problem to its local environment. But beyond that, blocking it is likely to affect the economics, even if the coal does get to Asia somehow else.
Posted by doesurmindglow on December 15, 2012 at 11:39 AM · Report this
Matt from Denver 46
@ 45, I'll clarify - I'll dispute incomplete photo evidence, or rather not accept it without further proof, as in the case of the first photo. Admittedly, it looks genuine, but that is such an unusual thing that further explanation is needed.

I'm not saying that there are no legitimate environmental concerns (although both the matter of scale involved, and the near certainty that China will get this coal, whether rrom Bellingham or another port, means that any victory will be symbolic but will not help the environment at all), but this bit about the dust billowing over Seattle's waterfront and fiving everyone cancer is just too much. I would like a scientific study too, but we CAN take existing problems in towns on coal train routes into account. And to put it simply, I can find no evidence that that's ever been a problem.

Most of that coal dust load loss happens during loading, unloading,and within the first few miles of leaving the mines. They already know that much.

Remember, science tries to find out why things are. If there's no unusual incidence of cancer along coal train routes, they aren't likely to spend money studying why not. Also, keep in mind that people complain about pollution they can see. If towns were being coated with dust, they would be opposed everywhere. I will again cite my own eyewitness testimony in saying that that isn't the case.
Posted by Matt from Denver on December 15, 2012 at 6:08 AM · Report this
doesurmindglow 45
@44: I mean, I oppose the trains mainly for climate change, fishing industry and diesel pollution reasons, so I'll freely admit the "coal train dust problem" is a relatively minor concern to me. I too think there are other, better reasons for opposing the trains, and those reasons are in fact MY reasons. Even if we could eliminate coal dust emissions 100%, which we can't, I know I wouldn't be okay with coal trains.

While acknowledging that, I also think it's completely ridiculous to pretend there is NO coal dust problem, or to jump to the conclusion that it must be negligible, without adequate scientific review. I'm afraid you're making this leap to negligibility with very little evidence. There is evidence of a coal dust issue -- the railroad estimates it loses something like 1-3% of its load to dust emissions in transit. Is it significant? Could it hurt people? I don't know. Let's study it.

Those emissions are pretty clearly what's pictured in the photo. But it now seems that you'll dispute whatever photo evidence of this problem exists, so there's really no point in going any further with this. I'll concede for now that your anecdotal account is probably superior to any observations of anyone else, ever, documented or otherwise. I'm not interested in arguing with someone who has no interest in seriously exploring the evidence that's out there, as I personally care about coal dust very little, especially from trains.

So with that said, I'm not saying it's the biggest problem. I am saying they should be required to study it. Especially at the port, which in the case of the Westshore terminal in BC, emits something like 700 tons of coal dust per year. And THEN we have the recent accident -- and surely you'll agree more traffic would mean more accidents, as that's just reality. More opportunities for accidents usually mean more accidents.

Last time I checked, Seattle is on Puget Sound, as would be the port, and has a sizable fishing industry dependent on the ecological health of that sound. I don't at all believe we could disregard marine pollution and accidents at the port as something that "will not affect Seattle and therefore off topic," again with no scientific review. They're both in the same marine environment.
Posted by doesurmindglow on December 15, 2012 at 12:26 AM · Report this
Matt from Denver 44
@ 40, the second and third links concern freak incidents at coal ports. I think we can safely assume that there's going to be coal dust at the ports, where the coal will be conveyed off the trains and onto the boats. None of that will affect Seattle, and is therefore off topic. (Which is dust billowing in Seattle as the trains pass through, not what happens at the port.)

The first link has no information, even when you click back to the page with the text. Is the train rolling or is it still? Was it windy that day? Is the image processed in any way? Photographs do lie sometimes.

So, we haven't put anything to rest at all.

I live about a mile from where coal trains that originate from the powderhorn basin pass every day. They never billow dust like that, and we're a lot closer to the mines than Seattle. I've seen thousands at this point, and I'm going to say that my witnessing trumps your one photograph.

As I've said before, coal trains passing through communities is nothing new. It's been happening for centuries. If they were really that bad, wouldn't there be stacks of documentation supporting that?

Something else I've said before - there are other good reasons for opposing the trains. Stick with those. This is bordering on teabagger-style thinking.
Posted by Matt from Denver on December 14, 2012 at 8:31 PM · Report this
doesurmindglow 43
@6: For sure. And the working class stiff who feeds his family by fishing for and canning salmon is just outta luck, right? His kids should starve, after all, because preserving his livelihood might have the unintended consequence of pleasing a few "yuppie liberals."

God knows we can't have that.

Fucking hypocrite.
Posted by doesurmindglow on December 14, 2012 at 5:52 PM · Report this
doesurmindglow 41
For the record, here's some coal dust blowing off the trains well after 1000 miles, in the Gorge:…

And here's some more blowing off a terminal far, far beyond the mines, in BC:…

Here's some more going in the water just last week in BC, after a single-hulled carrier plowed through the trestle that loads the coal onto the ships:…

So now that we put that to rest, let's move onto the fact that the proposed terminal more than triples the amount of coal train traffic. Even if you believe coal trains we have aren't a problem now (which I'd argue they very much are), tripling their volume is more than enough to make them a problem.

At the very least we need the agencies in charge here to STUDY THIS, which is most of what the people who spoke were demanding yesterday. Even if you agreed with building coal terminals and so on, you shouldn't have a problem with taking a good look at what the impacts would be.
Posted by doesurmindglow on December 14, 2012 at 5:31 PM · Report this
Cheesehead NW 40
If the Army Corps finds no significant environmental threat and permits the coal trains to roll, we will sit down on the tracks and stop the trains. You can count on it!
Posted by Cheesehead NW on December 14, 2012 at 3:10 PM · Report this
Matt from Denver 39
@ 38,

For fuck's sake, that's not a legitimate link. That information is just pulled together to suggest correlation, without offering any proof that coal trains have ever caused any such health problems anywhere.

Coal dust causes lung problems - that's not news. But is coal dust drifting off trains in amounts sufficient to cause these problems for those who live along the tracks? Probably not - coal has been hauled by trains through residential areas for centuries now, with black lung only happening to coal miners and others who actually work with the stuff.

Of course, your comment history strongly suggests that you're just a shill, not a legitimate slogger. So I wouldn't expect a legitimate link from you.
Posted by Matt from Denver on December 14, 2012 at 2:00 PM · Report this
The coal trains will have devastating public health effects on people who live in areas near the train tracks. For more information go to
Posted by historyteacher on December 14, 2012 at 1:37 PM · Report this
Will in Seattle 36
@31 do you know how easy it is to uncouple trains and turn over the individual open cars, using the dump bars?

... didn't think so.
Posted by Will in Seattle on December 14, 2012 at 11:17 AM · Report this
Will in Seattle 35
Fnarf for the mile long coal train fire danger to Sports win.
Posted by Will in Seattle on December 14, 2012 at 11:16 AM · Report this
You can't really expect labor to do anything other than support this initiative.

Seattle is a white-collar town now, and it means that anything concerning labor (unions), is being subsumed by the yuppie libertarian engineering scum that overflows from the Eastside through the rest of town.

You might have issue with the coal trains on the basis of environmentalism, but the continued survival of 'labor' in this town depends upon the continued growth or sustained business of 'labor' industries.
Posted by caltrop_head on December 14, 2012 at 7:54 AM · Report this
@28: Coal trains already run through Seattle. Why hasn't anyone noticed? Also, "18 trains" is a lie. The claim last summer used to be nine trains. Ever see empties running south through Seattle from Canada? I bet you don't, because they go over the pass. So would the empties from Gateway. Some of those nine trains already pass through Seattle to BC. So we aren't even talking 9 additional trains.

The Sierra Club could make their case on it's own merits. Why they, along with the mayor and a city council member outright lie and exaggerate just hurts their case. Microscopic dust? Please. Lower in the coal load? Do you make this shit up? Your PR is just as bad as any corporation would belch up.

Then there is the ICC. Good luck with that.
Posted by hmmmmm on December 14, 2012 at 7:50 AM · Report this
Matt from Denver 30
@ 28, so is this microscopic dust occurring in toxic concentrations after a thousand mile journey or not?

You might not want to quantify that, since the answer is highly unlikely to support the environmental panic some are trying to whip up, but I sure would. I have yet to see any research that coal dust from trains is any kind of environmental or health risk, and I've been looking. I find that stuff to be worth addressing, but I don't find lying about such risks to be any kind of good thing. Besides being detrimental to the cause it's supposed to support, it also undercuts actual environmental concerns in other jurisdictions by creating doubt whenever they are raised - call it "the boy who cried wolf" syndrome.

You people have good reasons for opposing coal trains already, so just rely on those. That shouldn't be too much to ask.
Posted by Matt from Denver on December 14, 2012 at 7:48 AM · Report this
billrm 28
@25 The loosest and most obvious dust blows off in a few miles, but as the coal is bounced around it continuously creates new dust that blows off in microscopic form. Also when passing along walls, under overpasses and thru tunnels vortexes are created that suck dust from lower in the coal load.

Over the last few hundred years we've learned that just because you can't see something with the naked eye, doesn't mean it's not there.

Oh, and we no longer are worried about how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. Just thought you might want to know.
Posted by billrm on December 14, 2012 at 7:27 AM · Report this
billrm 27
If the corporations steam roll over the people - as they likely will and the corporate owned politicians ignore the people - as they likely will, we always have civil disobedience. With hundreds of miles of tracks between Wyoming and Cherry Point there are an incredible number of ways to disrupt these trains. Just because the trains are allowed to run doesn't mean they will be able to get anywhere.
Posted by billrm on December 14, 2012 at 7:19 AM · Report this
Matt from Denver 25
@ 13, what dust? Nearly all the coal dust blows off the trains within a few miles of the mine. There isn't any dust left to blow off after a thousand miles.

Honestly, where do these myths come from?
Posted by Matt from Denver on December 14, 2012 at 5:39 AM · Report this
south downtown 24
funny that city folks now want to count externalized carbon footprint as an impact, but Seattle's own Climate Action Plan does not...
Posted by south downtown on December 14, 2012 at 1:29 AM · Report this
Sargon Bighorn 23
if the 4 topics are any indication, the terminals will be built. "No terminals" is not a reasonable alternative (One down). Identification of potential affected resources (what is stated as being effected is understood, helpful to know) (Two down). Unavoidable adverse impacts. Ghee thanks for the info public (Three down). Ways to avoid and mitigate impacts. Great we'll get on those when the terminals are all done and built and operational (Four down) And we're ready to roll. See how easy that was. 3500 people did not need to show up.
Posted by Sargon Bighorn on December 14, 2012 at 12:56 AM · Report this
Simone 22
What a coal industry shrill this green shirt Herb Krohn is for saying that coal is a natural occurring mineral. Coal is made of plant/animal matter that also contains minerals but is not a mineral just as my pet rock next to me is not a mineral.

I wonder if this guy was paid enough he would say (with conviction) that air, fire, water and earth are elements.
Posted by Simone on December 13, 2012 at 11:26 PM · Report this

Well we're living here in ...…
Posted by Supreme Ruler Of The Universe http://_ on December 13, 2012 at 10:40 PM · Report this
Very interesting that only one Mayoral candidate spoke out against the coal death train. Do none of the other folks running care about the environment?
Posted by Meinert on December 13, 2012 at 10:30 PM · Report this
TVDinner 19
I want to thank each and every one of the people who showed up to oppose this madness today. In addition to all the other gazillion good reasons to oppose this, the simple fact that Chinese smog pollutes Seattle skies nearly every summer is a hell of a good reason in and of itself.
Posted by TVDinner http:// on December 13, 2012 at 10:10 PM · Report this
lauramae 18
Corporations destroy the economy and then dangle jobs in front of the people who would otherwise be opposed to dirty, dangerous, polluting, traffic-jamming coal trains.

Just like any other proposal that asks the public to bear the costs for a few measly jobs, this will not be the financial reward that the corporate goons are proposing.
Posted by lauramae on December 13, 2012 at 10:06 PM · Report this
Cascadian Bacon 16
Fuck china, let the communist starve.
Posted by Cascadian Bacon on December 13, 2012 at 9:42 PM · Report this
theophrastus 15
"Labor" is making a significant mistake by embracing this dirty business. and if they'd only trust their own consultants they'd realize that there aren't many long-term jobs involved at all. some of the representatives of Labor (construction industry union) have just been flat out bought; but i suspect that most of them have just drunk the koolaid.

I believe it will all come down to the federal level (and we know how caring they are about us yokels) if the army corps of engineers have pressure on them from some bribed D.C. politicos then all is already lost. so hope for a shockingly sympathetic army corps person who understands that this is a traffic nightmare wrapped in an environmental disaster -- but don't hope much...
Posted by theophrastus on December 13, 2012 at 9:42 PM · Report this
Can't help but think the unions are shooting themselves in the foot on this one.
Posted by cracked on December 13, 2012 at 9:38 PM · Report this
Honestly, I would think all the posters here who live in Seattle would be concerned about the cloud of cancerous coal dust that would be settling over Seattle, day after day, week after week, year after year.

Does the interstate commerce clause give companies the right to poison us 24 hours a day?
Posted by cracked on December 13, 2012 at 9:36 PM · Report this
Then I think...Seattle hasn't really been working out as a high tech, foo foo yuppie town. It never did. Let's get back to what made the Northwest great. Metal. Timber. Ores.
Posted by Supreme Ruler Of The Universe http://_ on December 13, 2012 at 9:34 PM · Report this
lauramae 11
Who were the green shirts? Union? AFSCME?
Posted by lauramae on December 13, 2012 at 9:22 PM · Report this
They're taking our jerbs!
Posted by K X One on December 13, 2012 at 9:22 PM · Report this
Chris Govella 9
I loved all the people who spoke on behalf of the poor, the small town city officials who are trying to save their communities from pollution, and the kids who spoke about their futures. Also, the singing grannies were terrific.
Posted by Chris Govella on December 13, 2012 at 8:49 PM · Report this
Matt from Denver 5
I still don't understand why they aren't just shipping out of of the port of Tacoma instead. I'm sure that was covered at some poizzzzzzzzzzzzz.......
Posted by Matt from Denver on December 13, 2012 at 6:58 PM · Report this
Fnarf 4
I should clarify that I'm not really interested in the environmental arguments, but the traffic ones are a deal-killer. This town is going to blow up the first time one of these trains interferes with a Seahawks/Mariners/Sounders/future basketball or hockey game.
Posted by Fnarf on December 13, 2012 at 6:44 PM · Report this
Fnarf 3
I hope they allow the trains, and then somebody lobs a lit Molotov cocktail into an open car on the first train. Coal burns great.
Posted by Fnarf on December 13, 2012 at 6:41 PM · Report this
will a landslide please hurry up and submerge the waterfront rail line from golden gardens to edmonds? that shit is a god-given public right-of-way. Theres a fuckin grand canyon under them waves.

Pray to all-mighty Gaia my precious lost lambs!!!
Posted by carsten coolage on December 13, 2012 at 6:19 PM · Report this

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