Shipping Midwest Coal Through Oregon: Albany Fights Back

If coal and shipping companies get their way, Oregon’s Coos Bay, along with four other Pacific Northwest ports, could soon become a major hub of US coal transport to China and other Asian countries. By 2023, Coos Bay could be shipping out over 11 million short tons of coal per year on 200 vessels, with 600 train cars per day entering the port. Four trains would snake their way down the I-5 corridor and through 5.5 miles of downtown Albany each day, depositing hundreds of pounds of coal dust into local neighborhoods, and belching diesel fumes on their way to the coast. Traffic stops are estimated to increase significantly—it can take six to nine minutes for a 1.5-mile-long train travelling at 10mph to pass a crossing—as is local noise pollution.

While some claim that the coal trains will boost the local economy, Albany Against Coal Trains, a group of concerned citizens who oppose the shipping of coal through Pacific Northwest towns and ports, strongly disagrees. The group has scheduled an educational forum for Feb. 17 with a strong line-up of speakers, including Jeremy Ferguson, Mayor of Milwaukie Oregon, Regna Merritt of Oregon Physicians for Social Responsibility, and Evan White, the Salem Power Past Coal campaign co-chair.

“A lot of people oppose [the coal trains],” said Sue Goodman, an Albany Against Coal Trains organizer. Goodman hopes that shedding light on local coal shipping schemes will make it more difficult for companies to withhold pertinent information. “The more they can do this without public awareness, the further they can get,” she said.

The most prolific coal reserves in the US are located in the Powder River Basin that straddles Wyoming and Montana. While coal burning has begun to level off in the US (in large part due to increased natural gas use), Asian countries currently need more coal—China burns 3 billion tons per year, and that number is growing. Asia already gets some Powder River Basin coal through Canada, but because these terminals are at capacity, five new ports are proposed for the US Pacific Northwest. For more information on the proposed terminals, visit http://earthfix.opb.org/energy/article/coal-score-card.

Albany Against Coal Trains is looking for concerned Corvallisites to stand alongside Albany residents at the upcoming meeting.

“It would help even just having more folks from Corvallis here who understand the implications, and who realize there are really no positives—there’s no benefit to communities whatsoever, only negative impacts associated with health, safety, social aspects, the economy, and the environment.” said Goodman.

Albany’s coal trains would pass near schools and parks, and through lower income neighborhoods where residents are often the least able to afford potential health issues associated with exposure to coal dust. Goodman and her colleagues will also be collecting more signatures from locals who oppose the trains, and will present the petitions to Albany’s City Council. Goodman hopes that local residents will join in solidarity with other Oregon and Washington towns that are facing the same predicament.

The Feb. 17 Albany Against Coal Trains meeting will take place at 6 p.m. at the Albany Public Library (2450 14th Ave SE, Albany). A carpool will meet at Terminus restaurant in Corvallis at 5:30 p.m. For more information, contact Albanyagainstcoal@gmail.com.

by Genevieve Weber

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