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Diverse Voices Heard At EarthFix Seattle Coal Export Panel

Ashley Ahearn of KUOW/EarthFix moderates a panel of experts who talked at Town Hall Seattle Wednesday evening about plans to build coal export terminals in the Pacific Northwest.

Ashley Ahearn of KUOW/EarthFix moderates a panel of experts who talked at Town Hall Seattle Wednesday evening about plans to build coal export terminals in the Pacific Northwest.

Michael Werner

SEATTLE - There are now five places in the Pacific Northwest considering the installment of coal export terminals. The largest, Gateway Pacific Terminal, could be built near Bellingham, Washington. That has some Seattleites worried about potential impacts of the terminals, including increased traffic congestion and rail safety, and consequences to human and environmental health. Others see an opportunity for living-wage jobs and state tax revenue.

As the review process for Gateway Pacific Terminal kicks off, the debate over coal exports has heated up. But the 250 people who attended last night’s panel discussion, “Exploring Powder River Basin Coal Train Proposals” at Seattle’s Town Hall, were respectful of the diverse panelist perspectives. Ashley Ahearn of EarthFix and KUOW moderated the panel.

Jeremiah Julius, is an officer of the Lummi Indian Business Council and a fisherman. He shared his worry about impacts of coal dust and increased coal tanker traffic on limited tribal fishing rights. “One accident inside the Salish Sea and my way of life is gone,” Julius said. He also noted community concerns about potential damage to sacred tribal burial grounds at the proposed terminal site.

SSA Marine would build and operate the Gateway Pacific Terminal at Cherry Point. Senior V.P. and Director of Business Development Bob Watters shared his views about the economic benefits the terminal could provide, but also acknowledged some potential environmental impact from the project and what proponents are doing to mitigate. He said it doesn’t have to be an either-or proposition. “We believe you can do both. You can can be good stewards of the environment and you can create the jobs,” Watters said. He also fielded some tough questions from Ahearn on climate change, public health and increases in rail traffic in Washington.

Mike Elliott, a former president and current member of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers & Trainmen, talked about coal dust from trains and shared his perspective on the scope of the review process for the Gateway Pacific Terminal. The Army Corps of Engineers has yet to decide whether they will conduct a programmatic environmental impact assessment - which would look at the combined impacts of the five proposed terminals across the region - or conduct a standard review which would assess each terminal independently.

Kimberly Larson, the communications and marketing director of Climate Solutions, shared concerns about the lack of information about coal dust and its potential environmental impacts. She also said that in considering the jobs created by coal export terminals people should “learn how to subtract” - i.e. consider the jobs that could be lost if trains divide communities or climate change impacts the viability of fisheries.

Finally, Sanne Knudson, a law professor at the University of Washington and an expert on the environmental review process, said that climate change could be considered in the environmental review of coal export terminals. She noted a similar case concerning Powder River Basin coal for Midwestern power plants in which the court held that climate change impacts had to be considered in the environmental review.

“With more than 16,000 public comments submitted, it’s clear that at this point, people have a lot of questions,” said Ahearn. “We look forward to continued coverage of the coal export debate in the months and years to come.”

BNSF, the rail company that would bring coal from the Powder River Basin in Wyoming and Montana and deliver it to the Gateway Pacific Terminal, declined to join the panel. However, the company did offer to reimburse “friends of BNSF” for the $5 entrance fee if they attended the event. BNSF has also declined EarthFix’s requests for a sit down interview to talk about the coal dust issue.

Peabody Energy also declined to join the panel discussion. We continue to extend the invitation to interview both companies, whenever they’re ready to talk.

The panel discussion will be broadcast on KUOW Public Radio and The Seattle Channel in the coming weeks. You can also watch (Courtesy of Seattle Channel) or listen to the panel below:

In addition, stay tuned for a KCTS 9/EarthFix documentary, Coal Train, coming June 2013. EarthFix’s KCTS 9 producer shared this documentary preview to help introduce the coal export issue at the panel event:

Here is a sampling of tweets from EarthFix and event attendees:

Talking Northwest Coal Exports

EarthFix, KCTS 9, KUOW and Town Hall hosted a public panel discussion on the proposed coal export terminals in the Northwest. About 250 attended and remained respectful to the diverse perspectives held by panel members. Here’s a sampling of reports and reactions from attendees.

Storified by Toni Tabora-Roberts· Thu, Feb 14 2013 07:03:25

Curtain goes up in moments @ big Seattle forum on NW coal ports. I hope tempers are in check so dialogue ensues. #SEJ #earthfixmedia #nwcoalJeff Burnside
.@THSEA filling up despite major traffic due to reported blackout. Panel will start a few mins late. #NWcoal
#NWcoal panel with @EarthFixMedia — diving into #coalexport Bukowski
Context for the coal export discussion
Nearly 1/2 of US #coal comes from Powder River Basin. Home to largest open pit mines. #NWcoalEarthFix
There are 5 proposals to export #coal through PNW. #GPT is the largest and would be near Bellingham at Cherry Point. #NWcoalEarthFix
Ashley @aahearn, KUOW: More than 16,000 public comments made on NW coal port idea. So far. #nwcoal #earthfixmediaJeff Burnside
On traffic congestion and rail issues
Who is going to pay for the rail expansion? Are we going to subsidize the industry MORE? #NWCoalMark Drummond
So if there are droughts in the Midwest due to global warming, there will be more rail capacity for coal! Problem solved! #NWCoalMark Drummond
#NWcoal. WSDOT has pointed out rail choke points for #coalexports. Who will pay for improvements? Rail worker suggests it will be public.Ross Macfarlane
#NWcoal Larson notes #coal trains are largest, heaviest so that impacts train capacity, wait times.EarthFix
Coal trains thru Seattle? Cars wait 1-3 hrs cumulative at intersections during full 18 daily coal trains/day. #earthfixmedia #nwcoal #SEJJeff Burnside
City of Pasco can’t find $ to improve RR overpass so how do needed improvements get done? #NWcoalsonja
We currently use trains to ship biofuel feedstocks to WA. Canada and others benefit. Is that and argument against biofuel? Crazy. #NWcoalTodd Myers
#nwcoal is the traffic impact study including the closing of the viaduct? With no DT exits more people will use 1st ave S.Maxamillion
On coal dust concerns
Watters: #Coal has been transported through the state for decades with no complaints about dust until the proposals were announced. #NWcoalEarthFix
#Coal dust talk now. Elliot says that dust became issue 7-8 years ago for PRB coal, but now they’ve addressed with surfactants. #NWcoalEarthFix
645 lbs of coast dust per car?! Please! Is the surfactant dangerous? Toxic? What about when we burn it? #NWCoalMark Drummond
#NWcoal. BNSF says coal dust not a problem but refusing interviews with @EarthFixMedia and saying it shouldn’t be studied in EIS. Why not?Ross Macfarlane
Bob Watters says there is no health effect of coal dust. What do you think? #NWCoalMark Drummond
#NWcoal Good thing they have those scientist type of people studying that whole dust issuetenaciouslee
On what Seattle stands to gain
@EarthFixMedia asks “What does Seattle stand to gain from #NWCoal ?” #tooeasy #nothingAnna Bukowski
$11 million in tax revenue per year… How much are we paying on railway subsidies? #NWCoalMark Drummond
Watters: benefits for SEA job creation, tax rev, trickle down. @aahearn says about $11 mill Wyoming gets $300 mill in royalties. #NWcoalEarthFix
Wrong audience to explain #NWcoal jobs benefit as positive “trickle down” effect — groans from the crowd.Anna Bukowski
#NWcoal. Larson (quoting Pete Knudson, Ballard Fisherman) “if you are going to talk about trains, you need to learn how to subtract”.Ross Macfarlane
. @WAPolicyGreen what’s in it for us? How about climate disruption, traffic, bad air quality, etc. @rossmacfarlane @earthfixmedia #NWcoalChris Bast
On considering coal differently from other commodities
Watters: Coal is not an illegal substance. #NWCoalKatieCampbell
#Coal is the worst offender for #climate change says Larson. Coal is not like other things we export. #NWcoalEarthFix
. @WAPolicyGreen that’s clearly a red herring. It’s a clear difference in scale and the product certainly matters. #NWcoalChris Bast
That’s not argument she made. If product is key, argue product not envy. MT @ChrisBast: difference in scale and product matters. #NWcoalTodd Myers
@WAPolicyGreen many reasons to oppose this project. When we’re paying thru subsidy - only fair to ask what are we getting in return #NWcoalChris Bast
Elliot doesn’t want #coal to be considered differently, says coal is a bridge commodity, 10-15 years of export, not 40. #NWcoalEarthFix
On coal exports and climate change
#NWcoal. Bob Watters says SSA has no position on global warming or coal. “we just ship coal, don’t ask what happens when it gets burned”Ross Macfarlane
Climate change does not need to be a partisan issue. Enough. #NWcoalAnna Bukowski
#NWcoal. Sanne Knudson (UW Law) EIS for #coalexport should include global warming impacts.Ross Macfarlane
Carbon-tax and “Cap and trade” only serves to move pollution to low income areas! it is not the solution! #NWCoalMark Drummond
Other reactions
#NWcoal The sheer scope of operations at the terminal means that any accident will have major consequences. And yes, accidents will happen.tenaciouslee
#NWcoal hadn’t considered effect on fisherman due to miles-long ship stopping distances + poor visibility.tenaciouslee
I don’t understand the anti-trade attitude of greens. If someone else benefits it’s bad? Isn’t that the definition of selfish? #nwcoalTodd Myers
#NWCoal what kinds of jobs and what kinds of tax revenue. How old is the track and how well maintained.James Englund
Where are the coal companies? Where is BNSF? Why are they making SSA and the train union guy carry this lift? Why are they afraid? #nwcoalChris Bast
A big salmon protesting outside @THSEA for #NWcoal panel

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