The Sierra Club is bringing its anti-coal campaign to Spokane Thursday, urging local residents to oppose terminals at Washington seaports that would ship coal to Asia.
Coal producers are seeking permits to build terminals near Bellingham and Longview to ship up to 130 million tons of coal mined in Wyoming’s Powder River Basin to China, India, Korea and Japan. The terminals would turn the state into a major coal exporter at a time when Washington is trying to curb its own greenhouse gas emissions by requiring utilities to expand their use of renewable energy, Sierra Club members say.
In addition, the coal would reach Washington’s coast by rail cars. Communities along the rail route, including Spokane, could see dozens more coal trains rolling through their towns if the terminals are built, said Robin Everett, part of the Sierra Club’s “Beyond Coal” campaign.
She’s one of the speakers at Thursday’s forum on the proposed ports. It runs from 5:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. at the Lincoln Center, 1316 N. Lincoln St., Spokane. Two Spokane City Council members, Bob Apple and Amber Waldref, are also on the panel.
Peabody Energy, a large coal company, has announced plans to export 24 million tons of coal annually from a shipping terminal north of Bellingham, about 20 miles from the Canadian border. Once built, the terminal would be capable of shipping 48 million tons of coal each year.
In Longview, Millennium Bulk Terminals, a subsidiary of an Australian coal company, has purchased property for a terminal in Longview, along the Columbia River. A U.S. company, Arch Coal, also has a stake in the venture. The companies could export 20 million to 80 million tons of coal annually.
According to the Sierra Club’s estimates, construction of the terminals could bring 30 to 60 additional trains through Spokane County each day.
In addition to the greenhouse gases produced by burning the coal overseas, Everett said the rail shipments from Wyoming will release coal dust and diesel particulates, both respiratory irritants. Climate Solutions, an Olympia nonprofit, has teamed up with the Sierra Club to oppose the shipments, along with the Spokane Riverkeeper and The Lands Council.
BNSF Railway Co. already ships coal through Spokane on its railcars, said Suann Lundsberg, a company spokeswoman in Fort Worth, Texas. The railroad would serve the Bellingham coal terminal if it’s built.
But Lundsberg said it’s too soon to know what the market demand for coal will be like in 2015 when the terminal is scheduled to open, or what the impact would be on rail traffic in Spokane.