Wash. Groups Go Beyond The Burn to Fight Coal Pollution

In the coastal regions of Washington state, environmental groups are fighting a new proposal to ship coal from their shores.

Peabody Energy is asking for permits to build a $500 million terminal to sell and ship coal to China. Due to industrialization and manufacturing growth, China is building coal power plants at an increasing speed and need more of the resource than ever before.

Peabody -- which operates mines in Montana and Wyoming -- wants to ship at least 24 million tons of coal through the port annually and according to Vic Svec, senior vice president for investor relations at Peabody, the United States has plenty more.

"Coal is an area where the United States has abundant resources, and we can improve our trade balance by exporting a component of that," he told the National Geographic

Among opponents' main concerns are coal dust contamination and diesel fuel pollution, as similar problems occur in Vancouver, B.C. coal shipping terminals. Bart Milhailovich of the Spokane Riverkeeper says safety risks are inevitable if the coal company's paperwork goes through. 

"There is no way we are dodging the bullet," he told the Seattle Times

The Riverkeeper is one of many local groups involved in the Power Past Coal coalition, which is leading the charge against the port. Currently, Power Past Coal is encouraging supporters to voice their disapproval and is holding meetings to organize against the proposal. 

Many in the local community are surprised that the plan is even being considered near an area widely known for its sustainable efforts. 

"It's almost inconceivable that there would be a plan afoot to change this part of the world to a coal export facility," local resident Julie Trimingham told NPR. "It seems ironic or cruel, or misguided at best."

Peabody, along with many proponents of coal energy, says the port would create more jobs. A study conducted by economists from the Western Washington University confirmed that statement, saying that the project in its entirety may create at least 5,000 direct and indirect jobs in the area. 

However, when asked whether any negative impacts would result from the increased rail traffic, the analysts said they didn't have that information. Jed Brewer, a private consultant on the study, said anything other than job numbers was beyond the scope of the project, but he hoped his team can explore the environmental impact in the future.

"We'd love to be asked to dig into some of these additional questions," Hodges told the Bellingham Herald.

The Sierra Club, another member of the Power Past Coal coalition, estimates the coal expansion would mean an additional 30 to 60 trains passing through Spokane County, Wash. alone. 

In an interview with National Geographic, Bellingham Mayor Dan Pike says weighing environmentalism versus economic advantages leaves him between a rock and a hard place.

"This is a challenging thing to say no to," he said. "There are people hurting in this community, people who have been out of work for a year or more who can't find work."

However, in Pike's interview with NPR, he also acknowledges the move would threaten the area's sustainable culture. 

"There are some folks advocating for it because, like a lot of communities, we really could use good jobs," he told NPR. "But we've also built a reputation over the past few decades as a place that values sustainability. And there are few things that are as anti-sustainability as coal is."