Skip to main content

Protest Against Northwest Coal Export

Warren Buffett is a famous gazillionaire who owns a railroad company known as BNSF Railway. BNSF Railway operates trains that transport coal from Montana and Wyoming’s Powder River Basin to shipping ports on the coast of British Columbia. The coal that is shipped via Buffett’s railway to the B.C. coast eventually gets put on big boats and sent across the Pacific to China where it is burned in poorly regulated coal power plants. These poorly regulated coal power plants emit enormous amounts of pollution that harm human health and exacerbate climate change.

All sounds pretty crummy, eh?

Fortunately, a brave group of Canadians aren’t intimidated. British Columbians for Climate Action has planned a coal protest for May 5 in White Rock, B.C. That’s where Buffett’s BNSF trains travel en route to the coal export facility at Westshore Terminals near Roberts Bank, B.C. The Canadian activists explain their upcoming action:

We're doing this because we have to. The science is solid: within the decade, if we don't work hard we are going to run out of time to avoid runaway global warming. It's not enough anymore just to go to rallies, write letters, and shut off our lights for an hour once a year. We're aware of what is at stake, and we have a moral obligation to do our best to stop the things that are destroying the planet.

To make their intentions clear, British Columbians for Climate Action recently mailed Buffett a letter outlining their plan to block coal trains’ passage through White Rock by standing on the train tracks. The action is in solidarity with’s “Climate Impacts Day,” scheduled for May 5, which features protest actions across North America.

In part, the letter to Buffett reads:

Our actions will be peaceful, non-violent, and respectful of others. There will be no property destruction. We are striving to be the best citizens we can. We will stand up for what we believe is right and conduct ourselves with dignity.

Just two days later, Robert F. Kennedy Jr., will headline an anti-coal rally in Portland, Oregon. The event is hosted by Power Past Coal, a coalition of environmental advocacy groups, including Earthjustice, that oppose coal-fired power. With five coal export terminal proposals being considered in Washington and Oregon, Portland faces the possibility of up to 12 coal trains—each a mile long or more—passing through the city every day. Since coal is transported in open rail cars, coal dust pollution in Portland would inevitably become a serious problem.

With domestic demand for coal in the United States sharply declining, coal companies are determined to ship as much Powder River Basin coal as possible to China and other emerging Asian economies. With only three coal export facilities on the western coast of North America (Westshore Terminals in B.C., Prince Rupert, B.C., and a small facility in Seward, Alaska) however, coal companies are keen on the idea of building new shipping terminals in the region. Pacific Northwest communities that would be plagued with coal dust pollution and made to suffer congestion on the roads as a result of heavy coal train traffic aren’t so keen on the idea. This is just the beginning of the fight; we’ve got a long way to go.

Coal trains generate huge volumes of toxic dust as they travel westward from the interior, tying up rail lines and blocking traffic. (Laura Gilmore)

Tags:  Coal, coal exports