By BEN MITCHELL
Residents of the Columbia River Gorge may be seeing a future increase in coal trains traveling the railways on both sides of the river, says the Sierra Club.
The grassroots environmental organization held an open meeting at Springhouse Cellar Winery last Thursday evening to inform the public of the potential effects that this increased rail traffic may have on the quality of life in the Gorge.
Laura Stevens, a Beyond Coal Organizer for the Sierra Club, told the approximately 30 people in attendance that six Pacific Northwestern ports are courting coal companies for possible exports of the fossil fuel at their terminals. The coal, which is mined in Montana and Wyoming, would be reportedly hauled in uncovered train cars through the Gorge. The coal would then be put on barges at the ports, and then sent on its way to Asia, where the Sierra Club said it would likely be burned in coal-fired powerplants.
Stevens delivered an exhaustive list to her listeners of the possible environmental impacts that the predicted 20-30 additional daily coal trains may have for the Pacific Northwest. She reported that 100-200 pounds of coal dust would fly off each train for every mile that it covered, polluting the environment, causing health problems, and increasing the likelihood of train derailments due to coal dust buildup on the tracks.
Stevens also claimed that the diesel fumes from these extra trains contain more than 40 toxic chemicals that would pollute the air in the Gorge. She also stated that some pollution from the coal-fired powerplants in Asia may also make it back to the Pacific Northwest.
The Sierra Club reports Cherry Point Terminal, which is north of Bellingham, is looking to handle 24 to 48 million tons of coal per year, and that a proposed terminal on an old Alcoa plant site in Longview plans to ship 25 to 80 million annual tons. Supposedly the Port of Grays Harbor in Washington and the Ports of Morrow, St. Helens, and Coos Bay in Oregon have all expressed interest in shipping coal, but did not have available proposed annual tonnage figures.
Those who attended the meeting were concerned about what effect the increased coal exports would have on their lives. Some feared the possibility of fires along the railroads due to coal's highly combustible nature. Others were apprehensive about increased barge traffic on the Columbia River. One person was upset that the coal dust would harm his wine grapes that grow near the tracks.
In order to raise awareness, the Sierra Club is hosting a "Call in Day of Action" throughout this afternoon. Heather Kryczka, a Field Organizer for the Sierra Club's Beyond Coal Campaign said that the environmental group plans to have citizens make 150 phone coals throughout the day to Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber and Washington Commissioner of Public Lands Peter Goldmark. These phone calls are in order to inform public officials of citizens' opposition to coal exports.
Volunteers will be outside Rosauers today in Hood River from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. and at the Hood River Farmers' Market from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. to help facilitate the calling process.
"This is a very simple and very powerful way to get our message across," said Kryczka, "and to get out the word about coal exports."