The rest of the Pacific NW has been deep in this fight for some time.  Now the battleground is right here in Spokane.

If you “like” Spokane Riverkeeper on Facebook, follow us on Twitter, or listen to my weekly KYRS radio show, you have no doubt heard about the coal train issue.  It’s a topic I’ve gotten fairly comfortable talking about recently.  But like they say, talk is cheap, so I’m thrilled to announce an upcoming event where you can not only learn more about this issue, but hopefully plug yourselves in to the fight to stop them.

The event is step one of a multi-step process where Spokane and the greater Inland Northwest will have the opportunity to stand up and say “no way, no how, no coal trains!”

Here’s the official invite for this event.  Be sure to visit the Facebook event page to RSVP

You may have heard that Big Coal has plans to ship millions of tons of coal through the Pacific Northwest to Asia — spewing toxic coal dust, putting our safety and health at risk, clogging up our railroads and ports, and stoking the climate crisis all the way.

Come learn more about this dirty and dangerous project, and how you can stop it!

What:  Spokane Happy Hour event to learn more about Coal Hard Truth

When: Tuesday, August 23rd 6-8 p.m.

Where:  Rooftop of the Saranac Building, downtown Spokane, 25 W. Main (

The event is Free and light snacks and beverages provided – including beer and wine

Introduction of event and framing of issue presented by Paul Dillon and Bart Mihailovich, co-hosts of KYRS’s weekly environmental news and perspective current affairs program Down To Earth.  Presentation by Robin Everett of the Sierra Club

Our region is known for our cutting-edge innovation and smart solutions –we can do better than coal.

Here is some more background on this issue:

The issue:

Multinational coal companies want to ship millions of tons of dirty coal through Washington State to China and other Asian nations looking to feed their rapidly growing energy appetite.

Coal companies would strip mine the coal in the Powder River Basin (Montana and Wyoming), load it into open rail cars and transport it to yet to be determined export terminal locations on the west coast.  There are currently proposals for two export locations.  The trains carrying the coal would be up to two miles long. They would unload, store and ship the coal overseas where Asian countries would burn it in coal?fired power plants.

Though the export terminal sites are yet to be determined, one thing is already known: if and when they do find places to export the coal, the coal trains will rumble through Spokane spewing diesel particulate and coal dust, clogging up rail lines, congesting train track and road intersections, significantly increasing noise pollution, monopolizing train traffic and the importation and exportation of other commodities, and overall just contributing to diminishing a quality of life that people in Spokane and the Inland Northwest expect.

Faced with the prospect of all of this pollution, there is only one course of action – STOP THE COAL TRAINS.

Climate change:

Exporting coal to Asian markets, and possibly India and now Japan because of their recent nuclear disaster is proving to be an attractive opportunity for coal companies.  So attractive, that apparently the health and well being of our own country isn’t be fully considered in this business decision.  Exporting coal to other markets for them to burn, makes us extreme accomplices in the contribution to greenhouse gas emissions and global warming.  More locally, the state of Washington recently celebrated legislation that will phase out the operation of our state’s only coal-fired power plant – the TransAlta plant in Centralia, WA – by 2025.  This will make Washington a coal-free state.  However, by exporting coal to Asian markets, we will likely negate any legislation action locally.  Coal that is burned in Asia will be picked up by the Pacific jet stream and redistributed back to the western United States as mercury pollution.  Thus, making Washington unable to claim itself as a coal-free state…. now, and beyond 2025.

Current plans call for as much as 50 million tons of coal to be shipped through Spokane annually to be burned in Asian coal plants. Burning that much more coal every year would produce more global warming pollution than all the cars in Oregon and Washington combined in one year.

In addition to contributing to global climate change, exporting coal continues us down the path of old fossil fuels and holds us back as a nation and a state from fully exploring, developing and implementing alternative energy resources.

Addiction is hard to break, but we must start down the 12-step process.

Spokane’s economic benefit… NOTHING:

Spokane stands to gain nothing from this activity.  We are the middle man in this dirty operation, with no economic benefit for having these coal trains speed through our community belching air pollution and coal dust.

Number of trains:

If both of the proposed coal export terminals on the western side of the state were operating at full capacity, Spokane would experience an increase of rail traffic of about 50%.  Currently about 100 trains a day come through Spokane.  At full coal export capacity, 48 additional coal trains would pass through Spokane a day – 24 full coal trains loaded out from the Powder River Basin of Wyoming and Montana in route to the export terminals, and 24 empty coal trains headed back from the coast back to the coal source.  The trains return empty because once a coal train, always a coal train.

Diesel particulate:

The increase in train traffic would significantly increase the amount of diesel particulate in the air in Spokane.  At the current pace of 100 trains a day in Spokane, about 10 tons of diesel particulate matter enters the air.  An increase of 48 more trains a day would increase that diesel particulate to 15 tons per year.   Toxic pollution from diesel exhaust is linked to stunted lung development, increased probability of heart attacks, lung cancer, worsening asthma and infant mortality.

Coal dust – threat to our health, clean air and water:

Coal dust escaping from open coal trains and storage piles, and diesel exhaust from coal trains and cargo ships, would threaten human health, Spokane’s clean air, and water quality in the Spokane River.

The wide ranging health dangers of coal dust include exposure to toxic heavy metals such as lead, selenium and mercury. Coal dust leads to increased asthma, wheezing and coughing in children.

A comprehensive 2001 study of coal dust emissions in Canada found that the Westshore Terminal near Tsawassen B.C. emits roughly 715 metric tons of coal dust a year. The report states that “coal terminals by their nature are active sources of fugitive dust.” According to the rail operator, BNSF, every coal car can lose as much as 500 pounds of coal dust en route.

In Seward, Alaska, years of failure to control terminal dust have led to a lawsuit under the Clean Water Act. In 2010, the state of Alaska fined the railroad company that delivers the coal to the terminal $220,000 for failing to adequately control dust that dirtied Seward’s scenic harbor

Other concerns:

– An increase in train traffic would also create increased noise pollution, traffic congestion, wear and tear of the rail infrastructure and delays in the importing and exporting of other goods and commodities in the area

– Frequent traffic delays at busy rail crossings could clog commuter traffic, delay utility services and slow response times for police, firefighters and other first responder

– Train traffic increase would also increase the risk of fuel leakage in to the Spokane Valley Rathdrum Prairie Aquifer – the sole source of drinking water for nearly 600,000 people in Spokane and Kootenai Counties.  The BNSF refueling depot in Hauser, ID which sits right above the aquifer is already a threat to the Aquifer due to prior leaking, so an increase of trains needing to refuel there would enhance that threat

Images: Paul K. Anderson

more images can be found at:


10 responses on “STOP THE COAL TRAINS

  1. Charles

    Who can I get in touch with about this? I wasn’t able to attend the meeting but want to learn more about the issue and how to get involved.

  2. Dean

    Problem Statement
    Would a Coal Slurry pipeline built from Great Falls, Montana to Ports along the Colombia River in Washington State relieve global environmental concerns?
    Significance of the Problem
    A single unit coal train can haul over 12,000 tons of coal, losing up to 500 pounds of coal in the form of dust from each of its 110 cars for a total of 27.5 tons of dust per train per trip. Coal dust accumulates in the ballast between the rails, water can not drain through the dust causing derailments. The railway route from the Powder River Basin to the west coast ports is along some of the most beautiful rivers in North America. To transport 25 million tons of coal to the west coast the railroad would need to increase train traffic by 2066 trains per year, that would be an increase of 56,815 tons of dust discharged along the rails and in to lakes, rivers and towns, the equivalent of 4.7 entire unit trains dumped along the rails each year. With coal costing $14 at the mine and $135 delivered to China at the low end the dust would account for a loss of $795,000 of product per year, plus rail and train repair from derailments.
    In addition the public may have concerns with an increase in rail traffic. During the last 10 years trains have caused 234 wildland fires in Washington State alone. The fires burned homes and killed a person (Gabbert, 2009). Grizzly bears, eagles and wolfs fall victim to trains. During this last winter in Montana over 800 antelope and deer were killed by trains (Associated Press, 2011). Nation wide over 1650 humans have been killed by accidents involving trains in 2010 (Bureau of Transportation Statistics, 2011).
    The last problem that needs to be identified is the locations that coal is currently being mined and transported. Australia and Indonesia are the number one and two exporters of coal in the world, 288 and 261 million tons annually. Australia’s East coast is home to the Great Barrier Reef, And to the countries busiest coal ports. In 2010 a Chinese coal ship ran aground off Australia’s coast carrying 68,000 tons of coal and 975 tons of fuel oil giving environmental activist reason for concern. The activist chained themselves to conveyors closing the world’s largest coal export port for over 9 hours. Indonesia is covered with rain forest that traps CO2, how ever because the government is corrupt deforestation is taking a toll, and there is very little over site of mining companies to ensure compliance of labor and environmental laws. If Asia is not able to increase its consumption of coal these emerging 3rd world countries would need to discontinue electrification of there rural areas, which would result in them using wood or coal in their homes for heat and cooking, this is very bad for communities’ air quality and results in deforestation, mudslides and destructions of fisheries.
    The U.S. Energy Information Agency estimates that the world coal consumption will increase by 56 percent between 2007 and 2035 (Wellstead, 2011). Approximately 6.1 billion tons of hard coal and one billion tons of brown coal were used worldwide in 2010. That is over one ton per year for every man woman and child on earth (worldcoal, 2011). In 2010 China imported a record 165 million tons of coal, mostly from Indonesia and Australia. Japanese coal imports are estimated to rise to 116.8 million tons in 2011. Coal exports from the U.S. are expected to jump 70 percent in 2011, possibly reaching 100 million tons, (Reuters, 2011). The Powder River Basin coal is the world’s largest deposit of low-sulfur coal. Since the Powder River Basin is located over 1100 miles from a seaport, efficient transportation is key to competing for the global market share of coal demand.
    During a special message to Congress in 1962, President Kennedy promoted the use of coal slurries to transport coal to electric power plants. In support of coal for electricity, he announced a proposal to develop coal slurry pipelines, similar to those used for oil, to transport coal to power plants. President Kennedy’s vision helped create the Black Mesa Mine, which shipped coal slurry 273 miles from a Northern Arizona mine to the Mohave Generating Station near Laughlin, Nevada. Opened in 1968, the pipeline was the world’s longest water-slurry pipeline and moved five million tons of pulverized coal per year to the electric power plant. The pipeline operated for over 35 years. (Glennon, 2004).
    In the 1970’s the railroads and labor unions blocked an Arkansas power company from building a 36″ diameter, 1,500 mile pipeline from the Powder River Basin to a power plant located at White Bluff, Arkansas. Labor unions see pipelines as a rail job killer, and the railroad seen them as competition (Kaufman, 2005).
    A coal Slurry Pipeline from Great Falls, MT to West coast ports could solve many of the problems. If the U.S. does’nt sell the coal to Asia then Australia and Indonesia will, putting the reef and rain forest at risk. Just this last week it has been reported that China is looking at Colombia,SA to start mining operations.
    The U.S. can lower the Global risk of transporting coal.

  3. Dean Prigg

    The number one concern according to this article is that Spokane stands to gain nothing from the trains coming through their community. Does that mean that a little pay off will stop the complaints? Nice….

  4. Eddie Rocket

    how about being honest regarding your real concern which is global warming resulting from industrial production outside the US. and get a life too

  5. Josh Bearden

    Your not gonna stop coal trains, to much money would be lost, your arguments are invalid.


    Engineer on BNSF Seattle bound COAL TRAINS

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