Montanans ask Washington governor to scrutinize coal export facility – Jan. 5, 2011

January 5, 2011

Categories: CoalFossil FuelsNorthern Plains Resource Council

Montanans asked Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire today to carefully scrutinize a major new coal export terminal proposed to be built in Washington State. The terminal would ship coal mined in eastern Montana coal to China and other countries in Asia If built, nearly 6 million tons of Powder River Basin coal would be transported annually by rail and ship to fuel electricity-generating power plants in Asia.

“We are writing to thank you for your administration’s thorough review of the proposed coal export facility at the Port of Longview, and to let you know that Montanans share the concerns of residents in Washington State and across the country about the export of dirty coal overseas,” a Montana conservation and family agriculture group said in a letter to Governor Gregoire. The letter (see below) was sent by the Northern Plains Resource Council, which organizes Montana citizens to protect water quality, family farms and ranches, and unique quality of life.

Members of Northern Plains live directly in the path of existing and proposed coal mines as well as along the route of the proposed railroads needed to haul the coal destined for export. For three decades the group has challenged the proposed Tongue River Railroad that would bisect 133 miles of an undeveloped agricultural valley in the quest to transport coal from the isolated tracts to major Burlington Northern Santa Fe tracks.

The letter cites problems of mining and exporting Montana coal:
• Coal destroys aquifers and threatens the health and productivity of agricultural land and wildlife habitat.
• Increased coal exports would require new mines and new coal-hauling railroads that would damage productive, pristine river valleys in Eastern Montana.
• Increased daily coal train traffic would disrupt the lives of thousands of residents, both rural and urban, including emergency responders, near coal-hauling railroad tracks across Montana, Idaho, and the Northwest.
• Coal is a major cause of global warming pollution, whether it is burned in the United States or overseas.
• Coal companies have failed to reclaim all but a tiny fraction of strip-mined land in Eastern Montana to the standards set out in federal and state law. The jury is still out on long-term reclamation success, according to the letter.
“Instead of exporting 19th Century dirty fuels, we should find more ways to export 21st Century technologies for clean and renewable energy and energy efficiency, which will never run out,” the letter states.

“Anyone who lives or works near railroad tracks knows increased rail traffic can seriously impact a community,” says Ed Gulick, a Billings architect and Chair of the Northern Plains Resource Council, in the letter. “In Billings, Montana, my hometown and where Northern Plains is based, railroad tracks split our downtown in half. Trains currently cause minor inconveniences such as delays and traffic congestion for those of us who live and work on opposite sides of the tracks. The increase in rail traffic that would result from the additional trains to deliver coal to the facility at Longview could seriously disrupt traffic, slow emergency response vehicles, and cause more pollution and public safety problems across the Northwest. These impacts are real and need to be taken into account.”

According to The Daily News in Longview, Millennium Bulk Logistics, owned by Australian coal conglomerate Ambre Energy, has proposed to build a coal shipping facility to export as much as 5.7 million tons of coal annually from the Powder River Basin of southeastern Montana and Wyoming to China and other Asian countries.

Cowlitz County commissioners in November approved a shoreline permit for the facility. Gregoire has not taken a position on the coal facility.

Last month, a coalition of Washington state environmental groups appealed the Cowlitz County commissioners’ decision to the state Shoreline Hearings Board, saying the county had failed to properly evaluate the environmental effect of expanded coal transportation. The state’s Department of Ecology also filed to intervene in the hearing because the agency could be asked to approve other permits for the facility, according to The Daily News. Additionally, Ecology officials said that the county also should consider the effect of the project on the potential to increase emissions of greenhouse gases, which contribute to global warming.

Letter to Governor Chris Gregoire:

The Honorable Chris Gregoire
Office of the Governor
PO Box 40002
Olympia, WA 98504-0002

Dear Governor Gregoire,

We are writing to thank you for your administration’s thorough review of the proposed coal export facility at the Port of Longview and to let you know that many Montanans share the concerns of residents in Washington State and across the country about the export of dirty coal overseas.

The Northern Plains Resource Council was founded in 1972 by ranch families who were concerned about the threat that industrial-scale coal mining would have on their property and their ability to make a living from ranching. Northern Plains has continued to organize Montana citizens to protect our water quality, family farms and ranches, and our unique quality of life from the threats posed by the mining, shipping, and burning of coal.

We want you to know that there is more than one view in Montana about mining coal for export. Mining coal destroys aquifers and threatens the health and productivity of agricultural land and wildlife habitat. Expansion of coal exports would require massive new mines and a dramatic increase in new coal-hauling railroads, both of which would damage productive, pristine river valleys in Eastern Montana. Additionally, coal, as you know, is a major cause of global warming pollution, whether it is burned in the United States or overseas. We should not export dirty, 19th century fuel and its pollution when there are cleaner, cheaper and more sustainable alternatives. We believe our nation’s decision makers must embrace a sustainable energy path immediately and transition away from a fossil fuel-based energy economy.

There are numerous reasons why we oppose new and massive coal mining proposals. State and Federal law requires companies to reclaim the land and water disturbed by coal mining operations “as contemporaneously as possible.” Unfortunately, in Montana, more than 37,000 acres have been disturbed by coal mining. Only 50 —about 0.1%—of those acres have demonstrated complete reclamation of land on the surface and replacement of water resources destroyed underground. Coal mining removes the groundwater resources completely. The jury is still out on long-term reclamation success.

On a different note, anyone who lives or works near railroad tracks knows increased rail traffic can seriously impact a community. In Billings, Montana, my hometown and where Northern Plains is based, railroad tracks split our downtown in half. Trains currently cause minor inconveniences such as delays and traffic congestion for those of us who live and work on opposite sides of the tracks. The increase in rail traffic that would result from the additional trains to deliver coal to the facility at Longview could seriously disrupt traffic, slow emergency response vehicles, and cause more pollution and public safety problems across the Northwest. These impacts are real and need to be taken into account.

Burlington Northern-Santa Fe Railroad estimates that on average more than 51 pounds of coal is lost per mile from a 125 car coal unit train. That works out to over 31 tons of coal dust — 500 pounds per rail car — between the Spring Creek Mine in Montana and the Port of Longview. Coal dust pollutes air and water, and also degrades track conditions, which can lead to derailments, serious environmental damage, and disruption of commerce on busy rail lines.

Sending coal to Asia undermines efforts made in the United States to curb the pollution that causes global warming. Instead of exporting 19th Century dirty fuels we should find more ways to export 21st Century technologies for clean and renewable energy and energy efficiency, which will never run out.

We applaud your commitment to providing the citizens of Washington clean, safe and renewable electricity and encourage you to continue to look at all of the impacts that a coal export facility would have for your state, the country and the world. Efforts to curb the use of coal and address global warming pollution in your state have a profound impact on the livelihood of family farmers and ranchers in our state and people around the world.

Sincerely,

Ed Gulick
Chair, Northern Plains Resource Council

NORTHERN PLAINS RESOURCE COUNCIL
220 South 27th Street, Suite A
Billings, Montana 59101
(406) 248-1154
info@northernplains.org