County Council wary of coal trains and terminals

The Metropolitan King County Council on Monday gave its unanimous approval to a motion expressing the Council’s serious concern about the establishment of new coal export terminals within the states of Washington and Oregon.

The motion also supports a comprehensive approach to the review of environmental impacts of new coal export facilities and calls for an examination of new and expanded coal leases on federal lands in the Powder River Basin within Wyoming and Montana including a comprehensive review of the greenhouse gas and other air quality effects of continued and expanded coal leasing.

“Coal trains will have negative health and transportation impacts to my constituents while contributing to the significant global threats of the climate crisis,” Councilman Larry Philips, chair of the Council’s Transportation, Economy and Environment Committee and sponsor of the motion, said in a press release. “As a region that recognizes the devastating health, economic, and environmental impacts of a rising global climate, we simply cannot support trains that block traffic and expose communities to coal dust in order to export coal that will further contribute to global warming.”

“Today, the King County Council took an important stand in the fight against global climate change,” said Councilman Rod Dembowski. “I strongly support our freight rail system and drafted language in the motion to express the importance of this system, but we cannot ignore the serious environmental and public health impacts that result from burning coal abroad and at home.”

There are currently three proposed coal export terminals in the Pacific Northwest in Bellingham, Longview, and Boardman, Ore. The terminals would be used to handle up to 108 million tons of coal per year for use in overseas facilities. Much of this coal would pass through King County in route to the export terminals.

Burning coal produces the highest greenhouse gas content of any fuel source. The operation of the three proposed coal terminals would nearly double the amount of coal exported by the United States. These proposals will generate about 199 million tons of CO2 per year, more than the proposed Keystone Oil Pipeline.

These proposals are significant globally and locally. Locally, concerns have also been raised on the potential impact on the region’s air and water quality and traffic congestion that would come from increased train traffic delivering coal to these new terminals.

Much of the coal that will be shipped through the Northwest comes from federal lands in the Powder River Basin. There has not been a comprehensive review of the environmental impacts of coal extraction on climate change.

Along with expressing the Council’s concern about the new terminals, the motion supports a broad approach to the environmental review of proposed coal terminals, including an analysis of the impacts to local air, water, public health, transportation, and economy from the coal trains used to transport the coal.

The adopted motion is consistent with King County’s goals as stated in King County’s Strategic Plan. The Strategic Plan includes the County’s core goals of protecting public health, safeguarding water and air quality, and reducing climate pollution.

-from a press release

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