Coal Hard Truth Forum in Magnolia – Great Success!

The June 20th Coal Hard Truth Forum in Magnolia built on the enormous success of the Ballard Forum in May with great presentations by Steve Sundquist, a Climate Solutions Board Member, Jessie Dye of Earth Ministries, and Joelle Robinson, Field Director, Power Past Coal, among others.  The next Coal Hard Truth Forum will be held at the Queen Anne Community Center on July 24th.  All interested in understanding the concerns about coal exports and engaging on this important topic of climate change should attend!  Watch this website and that of the Power Past Coal Campaign for upcoming events.

The Magnolia meeting was opened by Mike O’Brien, Seattle City Council Member, who emphasized the importance of community members being at these events, city council hearings, and other citizen events to show that the community cares about this issue.   He also emphasized that the community needs to be supportive of the unions and those concerned about jobs issue, while opposing coal trains and coal exports.  The evidence is not that clear on whether exporting coal will actually produce a net increase in jobs  when one looks at the negative impacts of the coal trains on businesses and tourist activities from Longview to Bellingham.  However, those opposed to coal should not blame the longshoremen, contruction and railroad workers for trying to make a living.

Steve Sundquist spoke to these and broader economic aspects of coal exports and identified areas where there is evidence that the impacts on the local, regional and national economy may be significantly negative rather than in any way supportive of creating jobs for Americans.  Areas where the economics are potentially negative for Washington include:

    • Impacts on non-coal exports potentially coming through Washington ports.
    • Congestion on the north-south rail lines.
    • Cost of construction of rail crossings that will fall on state and local taxpayers to as much as 98%, not the railroads, and this during a time when the state has no extra revenues to cover it.
    • Impacts on Spokane of the three potential rail routes that will converge there with potential 60-70 coal trains per day.
    • It is anticipated that the jobs created in Bellingham for the building of a port would be 280 at maximum build out.
    • Volatility of the Asian coal markets that could impact the need for export terminals by the time any are constructed.  See the examples of what happened to Portland in the 1980s and Los Angeles in the 1990s when they built up for coal exports and the market went bust.
    • Development at the Bellingham port would be jeopardized by coal train traffic.
    • The current “brand” of Bellingham (and other cities along the rail route as a tourist destination) would likely to be seriously harmed by coal trains coming through their waterfronts.
    • Traffic impacts at crossings will disrupted for 3-4 minutes if trains go 50 mph, but even longer at slower and more realistic speeds.
    • The impacts from noise, accidents, and congestion need to be better evaluated.

Jessie Dye, Earth Ministries, spoke eloquently about humanity’s need to recognize that while some use of coal has been good, more will not be.  She analogized this to how adolescents may find drinking fun, they also learn as they mature that more alcohol does not mean more fun, but actually leads to many tragic consequences.   In the same way humanity needs to move beyond an adolescent attitude that more coal burning is good to that of an adult who sees that there are unintended consequences that must be weighed into such decisions and these should lead to the inevitable conclusion that burning of more fossil fuels will be devastating for the earth and mankind’s ability to live sustainably into the future.

Joelle Robinson, Power Past Coal, Field Director for Climate Solutions, reported that 40,000 have signed the petition against coal exports.  Get more people to sign the postcards and send them in.

Other county (Rep. Phillips) and local representatives and candidates were present at the meeting and expressed their opposition to coal trains in Seattle and the Pacific Northwest.  A representative from Washington Conservation Voters said that they have been interviewing candidates throughout the state and will be releasing their recommendations, of which position on coal is a significant factor, soon.  It is important the people continue to ask candidates their position and to let their current representatives know how they feel about coal exports through Washington.

There was a Q&A period with lots of good questions.  Some information gleaned, include:

  • 400 businesses have signed on opposing coal exports through Washington.
  • SSA Marine is a major tenant with the Port of Seattle.
  • The Coal Exports issue has been getting a lot of national attention, including in the DailyKos.com, Huffington Post, and NY Times.
  • The EIA scoping period for comments is now expected to be 120 days rather than the typical 60 days.
  • Scoping period may begin in July or August with one in Bellingham and Seattle, and hopefully several more.
  • The scope of the Cherry Point/BellinghameEIS is expected to be released at the end of the year.
  • 110 coal plants are on a retirement schedule.
  • Sen Inhofe’s legislation to prohibit EPA from regulating coal-fired power plants was voted down this week.
  • Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia, where coal mining is a source of employment, made an impassioned speech on why it is critical that environmental regulation of coal-fired power production is needed.
  • 40% of US coal production comes from the Powder River Basin in Montana and Wyoming.

The Seattle Environmental Activists were represented at the meeting by Mark A and Mary M who provided these highlights.   This information is as accurate as possible, but for exact information the sources and organizations involved in presenting should be contacted at their websites or other means.

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