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unEARTHED. The Earthjustice Blog

Protest Against Northwest Coal Export

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02 May 2012, 11:02 AM
Battle heats up in region targeted by Big Coal
A 129-car BNSF coal train going through White Rock, B.C. (Michael Chu)

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 cars. (Laura Gilmore)

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

Couple thoughts as I read this article. 1. When I look at the US, I see a country that most of the electrical production is coal based. I believe that it is in the neighborhood of 60-70%. People like Earthjustice want to get rid of it. There is no plan or other form of energy that can replace it at this point- nuclear- wont allow, gas powered combined cycle plants- can't compete with subsidized power, hydro- people want to remove the dams. Groups like Earthjustice believe that "green energy" is the way to go. Wind farms litter the landscape out here in the west and solar is the other. Neither of these forms of energy can stand on it's own at this point in time. 2. Our current president has made it very clear that he wants to get rid of coal power and will not allow any new plants to be built. He wants the cost to continue to rise. The end result is that we send the coal to countries like China and Mexico where they do not care about emissions. We saw what the air in China looked like before and during the last Olympics. You go down to the southern border and see what the industries are putting out in Mexico. Why not spend some of the subsidies we give to the wind and solar folks to help retrofit the current coal plants to be even cleaner producers? 3. In regards to the comment that the Global warming science is solid- I disagree. There is not a consensus within the research community- this topic has been politicized by many. There are many other influences that impact the global temperature and many of the claims of the global warming group have been debunked. It is too bad as a scientist that I have seen it become politicized by people on both sides. Money corrupts and taints a lot of what science is doing these days. Just look at Al Gore and how tied in he is to make money (billions) if many of these green initiatives are passed. The bottom line is that we are a society that consumes energy- look at the computer industry alone. The approach needs to be a balanced one where we focus on finding better means of producing energy that is cleaner, better and more efficient. At the same time we need to use the infrastructure we have and make sure that we work with them to help make sure that the people, air and land are not being compromised.

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