Ballard Coal Hard Truth Meeting – a Big Success!

The following notes were taken by Mary M, transcribed and edited for the present post by yours truly.

Mary and I had a chance to go to an extremely well-attended (200+ in attendance) Coal Hard Truth Forum, April 18th. It was one of 20 such forums that have been sponsored by a group of organizations including the Sierra Club, Climate Solutions, Earth Ministries, etc.

The forum was hosted by the Trinity United Methodist Church in Ballard. Good for them for hosting it!

The forum consisted of a panel discussion with 4 speakers, followed by a brief encouraging summary of current efforts. The event concluded with several very interesting discussions generated by questions and comments from the audience

The 4 panelists were
– Robin Everett, of the Washington State Chapter of the Sierra Club
– Pete Knutsen, NW Pacific fisherman and lecturer at Seattle University
– Dr. Melissa Weakland, Family Physician @ Ballard Neighborhood Doctors
– Rev. Steve Grom, Lutheran Minister, just retired
The overview was presented by
– Joelle Robinson, powerpastcoal.org and board member of Earth Ministries

I’ll briefly summarize what each had to say.

Robin Everett
Robin is the person in charge of coordinating activities relating to the coal trains for the Washington State Chapter of the Sierra Club. She had previously been involved with the Oregon Sierra Club in bringing about the shut down of the coal-fired power plant in Boardman, OR, and the TransAlta plant in Centralia, WA. She gave a power point presentation which nicely outlined the nature of the proposed coal train activity, and the risks and detrimental effects of permitting the coal trains to run as proposed. She emphasized that political outcry does get results. The Sierra Club and other groups are pushing for public hearings with one scheduled for Seattle in early Summer. They hope to get a lot of attendance. We’ll keep you posted on this site for further news about the exact date when it’s been settled.

Robin mentioned the following good web sites for keeping track on developements with the Coal Trains issue:

• coalfreenorthwest.org
• powerpastcoal.org
• earthministry.org

Pete Knutsen
Pete has worked in the Seattle marine industry for many years. He noted that the industry is vital to our local economy, and yet the coal train proposals would allow activity that would pose serious problems for the industry, both in near term impacts and in longer-term effects.

Near-term
• Truck traffic bringing wood or aluminum to the ships from SoDo would be backed up by the many-times-per-day, mile-long trains.
• Ballard locks will be backed up even more than they are now by the coal trains across the trestle at the locks.
Long-term
• The burning of coal–facilitating which is an obvious goal of these coal transport proposals–is a key cause of the increasing acidification of the oceans and will become a devastating problem for sea life and consequently all commercial fishing.

Pete ended by stressing that coalition building is critical to effective action. He pointed to previous successful efforts he’d worked on in which the tribes, the WiseUse community, and church groups acted together with the Sierra Club to achieve goals.

Dr. Melissa Weakland
Dr. Weakland is a family physician at Ballard Neighborhood Doctors; her father was a miner in Western Pennsylvania. She considers herself a risk vs. benefit expert. She stressed the need for Health Assessment as part of the general environmental assessment of the Coal Trains proposal because far more data is needed to weigh risks vs any benefits. And she noted several likely risks:

• adverse health impact of coal dust
• adverse health impact diesel emissions
• traffic delays which are not just an inconvenience but can impact the responsiveness of emergency vehicles, and lead to traffic related injuries
• increased noise, adds to stress and so is also a health risk

The King County Academy of Family Physicians has called for a Health Impact Assessment regarding the Coal Trains proposals.

Steve Grom
Rev. Grom originally led a ministry in Powder River Basin, Wyoming in the 1960s. The Gillette & Morcroft WY communities protested the excavation of coal pits for mining in the Powder River Basin, and were able to stop the pit mine that had been dug close to I-90
But the company later excavated 4 other pits but made them out-of-sight from
the freeway.  He was struck, looking back, at the communities’ failure to have a broader view, their main concern being just the unsightliness of the one pit nearest I-90. He urged us to take the longer-term view in our own protests and activism.

Joelle Robinson
Joelle Robinson gave a concluding state of activism on the Coal Trains issue. She pointed out that 80 organizations are involved. There have been 20 of these Coal Hard Facts forums organized in different communities. There are 190 Whatcom county physicians that have agreed to be listed on the powerpastcoal web site.
Doctors, Elected leaders, Marysville Mayor, our mayor, Mike McGinn and
40000 others have signed petitions given to Peter Goldmark, the Washington state commisioner of public lands. She mentioned several things that we can all do to pitch in with the efforts:

• Sign cards to Army Corps, Senators & Gov. Gregoire [MA: these were cards that were distributed at the meeting. I’ll try to get a batch of the cards for us to use for our upcoming May meeting.]
• Phone Banking at Sierra Club, every Tuesday (free beer & pizza) [MA: The Seattle Sierra Club’s offices are at 180 Nickerson Street, Suite 202, (206) 378-0114.]
• powerpastcoal.com has a presentation to share, that others can use if they wish to organize their own meetings or give the presentation at meetings of other interested groups. [MA: SEActivists, maybe we’d be interested in getting a copy of the presentation to show at a larger meeting, like the one in June?]

The forum concluded with some good discussions around questions and comments from the audience. Here is a bit of the most interesting stuff

Issues raised during the audience question and answer period
– Won’t there be impacts on other uses of rail lines (e.g. what’s going to be the effect on
efforts to develop high-speed rail travel on the Pacific corridor?)
– The side rail lines are used for Coal Trains but the additional traffic will certainly impact the public rail lines which are supported by public funds and will cost taxpayers $ to deal with.
– More transparency is needed on how BNSF plans to deal with these issues

– One woman noted that she lives 50 feet from the tracks, and wondered why BNSF isn’t required to cover cars?
Answer: covering the the coal, which is highly combustible, increases the liklihood of fires on the cars. Coal train car fires already occur even w/out the covers.

– Coal dust also causes derailing, and consequently, BNSF is
suing Peabody & other coal companies to allow them to use a surfactant on the coal.
(Peabody had been resisting and continues to resist the use of surfactants because of the cost.)

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