Seattle backlash on proposed coal terminal

COAL export terminal development in the Pacific Northwest faced more resistance this week as the Seattle City Council formalized its opposition to the proposed project.
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Justin Niessner

The council unanimously passed a resolution detailing its rejection of coal transportation in the region on environmental and public health grounds.

The resolution cites state government findings on the effects of fossil fuel-related climate change, “mounting evidence” on negative health impacts and the 2011 passage of the TransAlta Energy Transition Bill which paves the way for the reduction of coal-fired power in Washington state.

The Gateway terminal would be built in the area of Cherry Point close to the Canadian border and represents a flurry of recent coal port proposals around coastal Washington and Oregon.

The council’s vehement and thorough report served to emphasize the difficulty of establishing political momentum for coal infrastructure in the region.

Though some legislators and labor organizations support the Cherry Point terminal, environmental backlash for port development in the region has so far proven significant, as evidenced by Robert Kennedy Jr’s high-profile anti-coal rally earlier this month in Portland.

Mike O’Brien is a member of the Seattle City Council, chair of the energy and environment committee and prime sponsor of this week’s anti-terminal resolution.

“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,” he said.

The group’s opposition to Washington coal traffic also referenced possible effects on public health, largely attributed to the spread of coal dust from open-top rail cars.

“We have serious concerns about what a nine-fold increase in uncovered coal trains through Seattle would have on local health and traffic,” O'Brien said.

“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.

“An increase in coal train traffic through Seattle could also adversely impact traffic and freight mobility.

“The resolution asks the railroads to work with the city to mitigate any negative health and traffic impacts.”

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