Controversy over coal exports stirs up debate

Arguments for, against terminals are presented

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Yes: Speculative arguments against proposed terminals are overblown, ignore benefits including job creation

By Rob Hill

I've spent 13 years at BNSF Railway, working on trains as conductor and engineer. I've dealt with a lot of manufactured products traveling on our trains. However, I've never had to deal with a manufactured issue until the recent conversation about coal dust.

This is a new issue for the Pacific Northwest, one that was nonexistent before coal export terminals were proposed for the region. But trains carrying coal have been traveling through the Northwest for decades, and I've worked on them directly. Whether they're carrying coal to the power plant in Centralia, or north to coal export terminals in Canada, they're a regular part of our railroad system.

Until the terminals were proposed in the Pacific Northwest, clean-air agencies in the region had not received a single complaint about coal dust. Among workers like me, who are in contact with trains carrying coal day in and day out — even loading and unloading them — there have not been complaints on this issue.

People against these export terminals ignore all this, and claim coal dust from trains will be an issue in the Pacific Northwest. Among the people I work with, we're truthfully outraged by these claims.

We work on trains every day, including those that carry coal. Those attempting to make this an issue are nowhere close to our knowledge of rail issues. I've talked to many of my colleagues about this, and we believe these terminal opponents are trying to score points for a different cause. They aren't interested in representing this issue accurately.

Rail companies have studied coal dust closer than anyone, because it can cause the need for maintenance on a rail line. They've found that nearly all dust is lost within miles of its loading point, which is far from our area in this case.

On top of that, a surfactant is sprayed on every load of this product, preventing dust from coming off trains and specifically designed to preserve nearby rail lines. BNSF also determined that how you load the car makes a difference and now requires loading in a way that is most effective in reducing dust. I worked on these trains even before they started these practices, and never even saw it then.

The Northwest is going to see more trains carrying coal in the future, whether these terminals happen or not. Will there be more if they get built? Of course. I think that's a good thing.

Railroads are a good gauge of our economy. Extra trains mean extra jobs; they carry goods produced by workers, rail and port workers get them shipped, stores and restaurants serve those workers, etc.

I make a good living working at the railroad, provide for my family, and am trying to give my kids everything they need to succeed. Our economy needs more people with jobs like mine.

I ask people against these terminals to argue accurately, and stop bringing trains into it. Trains are the most environmentally sensitive way to move products, with far fewer diesel emissions and more fuel efficiency than trucks.

The downsides people attach to these terminals are pretty speculative. The job and economic benefits are not.

Rob Hill of Washougal is an engineer and conductor for BNSF Railway.

No: Threat to turn Gorge into ‘nation’s coal chute’ remains in the form of three proposed coal export terminals

By Kate McBride

HOOD RIVER, Ore. — On May 8, Kinder Morgan announced that it would drop plans to build a coal export terminal at the Port of St. Helens along the Columbia River in Oregon. Over the past two years, communities in the Columbia River Gorge have voiced concerns over six coal export proposals. Community leaders are asking for detailed environmental analysis, or are expressing outright opposition to coal export plans that would transport a combined 150 million tons of coal per year through the Gorge, which is a federally designated National Scenic Area. Kinder Morgan’s project is the third to have fizzled since proposals began to emerge in 2011, although other sites may be investigated by the company.

This is certainly good news for residents of the Gorge. Our communities are on the front lines of all of these coal export proposals and their diesel pollution, coal dust, severe and added fire and safety risks, along with overall quality of life impacts from the added rail and barge traffic. However, with three coal export proposals looming and a lot of unanswered questions still out there, this is not the time to quiet down. We need to make sure that the overlapping and combined effects of these three projects on the Columbia River Gorge are fully analyzed through an area-wide environmental impact statement.

Another opponent of the coal export proposals is Dan Spatz, who serves on The Dalles City Council: “It has been amazing to see the groundswell of concern and opposition to coal export throughout the region from my city of The Dalles to the city of Scappoose, which passed a resolution asking for further study … and dozens of other communities through Oregon and the Pacific Northwest,” he said. “Earlier this year, U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden and U.S. Representatives Peter DeFazio and Earl Blumenauer submitted requests to the Corps of Engineers to do a full environmental impact statement on the coal terminal proposed by Ambre Energy at the Port of Morrow and Port Westward. Companies like Kinder Morgan and Ambre are getting the message that you cannot turn the Columbia River Gorge into the nation’s coal chute without a fight.”

Last year, PGE declined to lease property at the Port of St. Helens to Kinder Morgan over concerns about coal dust impacting their natural gas facility.

Kathleen Fitzpatrick, a member of the Mosier City Council, recently said: “If PGE, which currently owns the coal-fired power plant at Boardman, does not want to be neighbors with a coal export terminal, the Columbia River certainly should not be. It is a relief to know that this proposal will not be dragging 30 million tons of dirty coal through Gorge communities each year. With other coal export proposals still actively being considered by regulators, this begs the question: what would the impacts be of doubling train and barge traffic? What would the effects be of increasing coal dust pollution and diesel emissions within the National Scenic Area and its communities?”

Kate McBride has served on the Hood River City Council for a year and a half. She also is land trust manager for Friends of the Columbia Gorge.