Montana to be included in analysis of increased coal trains for coal exports

Impacts of coal train across the region, tanker traffic, and impacts of coal burning in Asia to be analyzed

Today, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Washington State Department of Ecology, and Whatcom County (Wash.) announced a wider scope of their joint Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the proposed coal export terminal at Cherry Point, in Washington state. This will include an analysis of impacts of increased coal train traffic in Montana.

If built, the facility would be the largest coal export terminal in North America, exporting up to 48 million metric tons of coal per year to Asia.The proponents of the terminal include Peabody Energy, SSA Marine, and Goldman Sachs.

“It is extremely heartening that the scope for the Cherry Point coal export proposal will consider increased train traffic in Montana. Montanans spoke out about the health, safety, financial and environmental impacts we will feel and our voices were heard,” said Jeannie Brown, a member of Northern Plains Resource Council, who lives 280 feet from the coal-bearing railroad tracks in Belgrade. “However, we are disappointed that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is completely ignoring the effects of coal mining in Montana and Wyoming.”

Threats from mining in the Powder River Basin would be exacerbated if the proposed Gateway Pacific coal export terminal is permitted. Local drinking water supplies are at risk from contamination of toxic heavy metals like arsenic, cadmium, and selenium. Additionally coal mining wreaks havoc on land, waterways, and wildlife habitat.

The three agencies will take a broad look at the impacts of the proposed terminal through their environmental review, which will include: human health impacts from coal dust around the terminal and in communities along the rail line, marine traffic impacts, rail traffic impacts, greenhouse gas emissions from burning the exported coal in Asia, and cumulative impacts from the second proposed terminal in the state – Millennium Bulk Terminal in Longview, Washington.

“Community leaders throughout our state and region know that coal exports will take a toll on our state’s health and infrastructure. That’s why local governments, elected officials like me, and thousands of individual Montanans have spoken out calling for a thorough assessment of the impacts,” said Missoula City Councilor Dave Strohmaier. “We won’t give up until we make sure our communities aren’t paying the costs of coal export.”

As the scope of the EIS was being considered, the agencies heard from an unprecedented number of people – more than 125,000 comments – at seven hearings throughout the state and through written comments. Montanans chartered a bus and spoke at the nearest hearing which was in Spokane in December. Their concerns included traffic congestion caused by long coal trains; economic impacts to local communities; health impacts of coal dust and diesel pollution, and climate pollution caused by burning coal.

Cherry Point is one of three remaining coal export proposals in Washington and Oregon; three proposals have been pulled off the table in the last year. The Cherry Point terminal would result in up to 18 coal trains per day traveling through Washington, Montana and Idaho carrying coal from the Powder River Basin.

If proponents built all three terminals in Oregon and Washington, it would mean up to 100 million metric tons (109 million U.S. tons) of coal being exporting every year, and up to 40 trains per day traveling through many rail-line communities such as Billings, Livingston, Bozeman, Helena, and Missoula, Montana.

–Northern Plains Resource Council