Dust Up | What an internal industry dispute says about coal dust risk

Sightline Daily | News & Views for a Sustainable Northwest
By Eric de Place and Marcia Baker, February 20, 2014

[This post is part of the research project: Northwest Coal Exports]

Amid all the debate about the risk of coal trains spreading coal dust into areas near the railroad tracks, it’s often forgotten that the subject is controversial even within the industry. How to control coal dust—or whether it can be done at all to a meaningful degree—has been the subject of a long-running dispute between those who ship the coal and those who carry it. The coal companies or utilities that ship the coal are on one side and the railroads that carry it are on the other.

The controversy developed originally not because either side was concerned about the spread of coal dust into neighboring communities or rivers, but because coal dust accumulation had become so severe in places that it actually destabilized tracks, resulting in derailments or trackside fires. In response, the railways began levying fees on the coal shippers to cover the costs of treating the coal with a chemical spray designed to reduce dust emissions. The coal shippers objected, arguing that the fee was unfair and that the coal dust control techniques are ineffective.

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NYT Op-Ed: Don’t Sell Cheap U.S. Coal to Asia

New York Times, February 12, 2014
By Michael Riordan, Op-Ed Contributor

EASTSOUND, Wash. — FROM where I live on Orcas Island in Puget Sound, north of Seattle, I can see Cherry Point across the wind-whipped waters of the Salish Sea. This sandy promontory jutting into Georgia Strait has become the focus of heated debate here in the Pacific Northwest.

Peabody Energy, Carrix and other corporations hope to build a shipping terminal at Cherry Point to export nearly 50 million metric tons of coal to Asia annually. They ballyhoo the jobs the terminal may bring to our region but say nothing about the profits they will reap from selling subsidized coal.

Opponents decry the prospect of the dirty, smelly, noisy trains blocking railroad crossings all across Washington State as they transport coal here from the Powder River Basin in Montana and Wyoming. They also warn that coal dust from the terminal will pollute nearby waters and harm our dwindling populations of herring, threatened Chinook salmon and endangered killer whales.

But much larger issues of national and global concern are at stake. The low-sulfur Western coal, strip-mined from federal lands, is valuable public property. The federal government’s leasing of these lands at low cost to strip miners made some sense a few decades ago when the United States needed low-sulfur coal to reduce the amount of sulfur dioxide that was being emitted by coal-burning power plants and causing acid rain. But today, as utilities convert to cheap natural gas and American coal use declines, mining companies are seeking customers in China, Japan and Korea.

Shipping this subsidized coal to Asian countries to help them power their factories, which undercut American manufacturers, makes little sense. Yes, this coal will help those countries produce cheap consumer goods for sale in stores across the United States. But it will also promote the continued transfer of industrial work to Asia, especially if the Trans-Pacific Partnership goes through. Is that good for American workers?

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Broad Scope for Longview Coal Terminal Evaluation Announced

Power Past Coal Press Release, February 12, 2014

Strong EIS will consider coal combustion in China, rail impacts in communities outside Washington

Contacts: Gayle Kiser, Landowners and Citizens for a Safe Community (Longview) 360-749-7029
Jasmine Zimmer-Stucky, Columbia Riverkeeper, 503-929-5950
Kimberly Larson, Power Past Coal, 206-388-8674
Krista Collard, Sierra Club, 614-622-9109

LONGVIEW, WA – Today, the Washington State Department of Ecology and Cowlitz County announced a broad scope of their Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the proposed coal export terminal in Longview in southwest Washington State. If built, it would be the largest coal export terminal in North America, exporting up to 44 million metric tons of coal per year to Asia.

“It’s great to see the Dept. of Ecology and County Cowlitz using their authority to raise questions about the vast threats to coal exports,” said Gayle Kiser, a local Longview resident and president of Landowners and Citizens for a Safe Community. “This broad scope of the environmental and health review by the agencies reflects our Northwest values and common sense. The entire state of Washington, including Cowlitz County residents, would face impacts from coal export. Coal export would pollute our air and water, and halt the flow of traffic in our towns. Taxpayers and local governments can’t afford to put the blinders on for coal export; our agencies cannot either.”

The agencies will take a broad look at the impacts of the proposed terminal through the EIS, and will include a number of impacts: coal dust around the terminal, rail traffic and coal dust including in Montana, Idaho and the Columbia River Gorge, and the effects of coal combustion in China on Washington state, in particular carbon and mercury pollution. The Army Corps of Engineers has yet to announce their scope for Longview but took a very narrow one with the Cherry Point terminal.

“The Spokane City Council previously unanimously voted to have our voice heard in the building of coal export facilities and its great news that our state agency listened,” said Ben Stuckart, City of Spokane, City Council President. “Spokane has much to lose, and little to gain by allowing all these new coal trains through our town. Such an increase would harm our air quality, transportation systems, and emergency response. Today is a great step in the right direction for Spokane.”

The Dept. of Ecology, Cowlitz County and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers received over 215,000 public comments and heard from thousands of citizens last fall during the public comment period. That brings the total to 370,000 comments that have been submitted on coal export proposals in the Northwest. More than 60 local governments, including 28 local jurisdictions, submitted official comments on proposed Longview terminal. Over 160 elected officials, 500 businesses, and 600 health professionals have expressed concern or opposition to coal export.

“I’m pleased that the State of Washington is including rail impacts to Montana. These trains don’t just materialize at the Washington border, and the impacts increased coal traffic would have on emergency response times and air quality in Montana cities and towns is significant,” said Dawson Dunning of Montana, whose family has ranched near the proposed Otter Creek coal mine for generations. “We still have a ways to go to make sure that our ranching and agricultural interests are taken under full consideration in light of the drastic impacts increased mining would have on Montana and Wyoming. Any review of these ports needs to take a harder look at the survival of ranching communities and economies like ours.”

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Alternatively…View this press release in PDF form

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Is the Smart Money Bailing on Northwest Coal Exports?

Sightline Daily | News & Views for a Sustainable Northwest, January 8, 2014
By Eric de Place

[This post is part of the research project: Northwest Coal Exports]

The news is everywhere: finance titan Goldman Sachs is selling off its stake in SSA Marine, the would-be coal exporter of Whatcom County. (To be precise, Goldman Sachs Infrastructure Partners, a subsidiary of the big firm, is selling its stake in FRS Capital Corp and Carrix, the parent companies that house SSA.) Many see the move as a major bet against the economic viability of Northwest coal export schemes.

Though it is important to remember that SSA Marine is a big company with a range of port terminal holdings around the globe, there is evidence for believing that the sale is connected to worries about coal.

As usual, Crosscut’s Floyd McKay has some of the best coverage:

Goldman Sachs last July posted a warning for investors that coal exports would decline in future years. Tuesday’s announcement prompted a prominent coal opponent, Crina Hoyer of ReSources for Sustainable Communities, to say, “Goldman Sachs’ stepping away from coal export is yet another sign from Wall Street that coal export is a losing investment.”

Just as interesting as Goldman bailing out is that a billionaire Mexican investor, Fernando Chico Pardo, is stepping up to buy the 49 percent equity stake Goldman is unloading. Pardo is a longtime partner of oligarch Carlos Slim, one of the richest people on earth and the dominant player in numerous economic sectors of Mexico.

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New Film Exposes Climate Threats of Powder River Basin Coal Mining and Exports

EcoNews, Powered by EcoWatch
Originally posted June 14, 2013

A Pacific Northwest coal project is threatening the global environment on a scale greater than the Keystone Pipeline, but most people have never heard of it. Momenta, a documentary collaboration between Plus M Productions and Protect Our Winters, shares the story of the people living along the coal export trail and the project’s global environmental implications.

Since American demand for coal is declining, the American coal industry has turned its attention to rapidly expanding Asian markets. The plan is to extract 140 million pounds of coal per year from the Powder River Basin and ship it overseas via deep-water ports in Washington and Oregon.

“The closest way from Montana to Asia is through our backyards and through our ports here in the Northwest,” says Power Past Coal Campaign Director Beth Doglio. “If all of the proposals on the table right now get built, the impacts to climate change and greenhouse gas emissions would actually be significantly more than those of the Keystone Pipeline.”

Each day, more than 50 mile-and-a-half-long trains, laden with Powder River coal, will travel from Wyoming and Montana through hundreds of small towns to ports in the Pacific Northwest, leaving arsenic and mercury laden coal dust in their wake. The near-constant stream of escaping coal dust imposes toxic environmental pollutants and a myriad of health risks to pass-through communities.

And those are the domestic impacts. On a global scale, environmental experts warn that the amount of carbon emissions produced by burning the Powder River coal deposit would result in cataclysmic and irreversible impacts on global climate.

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Major Victory for Clean Water in Coal Export Battle

EcoNews, Powered by EcoWatch
January 3, 2014

The U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Washington denied a motion to dismiss, allowing the Clean Water Act case to proceed against BNSF Railway Company (BNSF) for coal contamination of U.S. waterways. The Sierra Club, Puget Soundkeeper, Columbia Riverkeeper, Spokane Riverkeeper, RE Sources for Sustainable Communities, Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and Friends of the Columbia Gorge filed the lawsuit on July 24, 2013, after finding substantial amounts of coal in and along several Washington waterways near BNSF rail lines. A similar case is also pending before the Western District of Washington in Seattle.

Photo credit: Paul Anderson

Photo credit: Paul Anderson

According to sworn testimony by BNSF Vice President of Transportation Gregory Fox, “BNSF estimates that up to 500 pounds of coal dust may be lost from the top of each car.” The company currently sends four uncovered coal trains through the state every day, each with an average of 120 rail cars. Based on the company’s figures, BNSF’s trains lose an estimated 240,000 pounds of coal dust  along its route daily.

“This victory is the first step in holding BNSF accountable for their continual pollution of our waterways,” said Cesia Kearns of the Sierra Club. “The court’s decision to move the case forward is a step in the right direction to stop coal—and its toxic associates, lead, arsenic and mercury—from further poisoning our fish, our water and our families. We take these threats seriously, and after today’s court decision we hope BNSF finally will too.”

The conservation groups point to BNSF’s long history of violating the Clean Water Act, which plainly states that dumping of any kind into a U.S. waterway without what is known as a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit, is a violation of federal law. Each violation of the Clean Water Act carries a fine of $37,500, and the plaintiffs assert that every rail car that loses coal is considered a unique violation—a hefty number when considering four trains a day, at 120 cars each travel through Washington.

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Major Victory: Coal Dust Case Advances Against BNSF for U.S. Clean Water Act Violations

Sierra Club National, Press Release, January 3, 2014
By Krista Collard

Court gives green light for water pollution lawsuit to proceed, major implications for coal shipper.

Spokane, WA — The U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Washington denied a motion to dismiss, allowing the Clean Water Act case to proceed against BNSF Railway Company (BNSF) for coal contamination of U.S. waterways. The Sierra Club, Puget Soundkeeper, Columbia Riverkeeper, Spokane Riverkeeper, RE Sources for Sustainable Communities, Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), and Friends of the Columbia Gorge, filed the lawsuit on July 24, 2013, after finding substantial amounts of coal in and along several Washington waterways near BNSF rail lines. A similar case is also pending before the Western District of Washington in Seattle.

View the order here…

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