Four-State Coal Export Protests & Hearings


An empty eastbound coal train crosses over Lake Pend Oreille, where the bridge is over one mile long at Sandpoint, Idaho (Terry Grey photo).

FIRST UPDATE: On Friday and Saturday, January 4 and 5, Wild Idaho Rising Tide and Occupy Spokane are hosting coal export direct action training, brainstorming, and planning sessions in Moscow and Spokane, with a preview screening of the British climate activism film Just Do It: A Tale of Modern-Day Outlaws, to organize a multi-state, concurrent action on Saturday, January 12.  We anticipate train track/roadside coal protests in Missoula, Moscow, Sandpoint, Spokane, and perhaps other Montana cities, against the proposed Gateway Pacific Terminal coal port at Cherry Point near Bellingham, associated coal mining and railroad transport and subsequent devastation of land, water, air, and human and wildlife health, and an environmental impact scoping process that blatantly excludes Idaho, Montana, and eastern Washington concerns.  Join us at 7 pm on Friday evening, January 4, at The Attic, up the back stairs of 314 East Second Street in Moscow, and/or at noon on Saturday, June 5, in Room 1A of the Spokane Public Library, 906 West Main Street in Spokane.  We welcome all concerned activists at this discussion of demonstration strategies and legal protest rights followed by the movie screening.  Expect another update about protest logistics on Sunday, January 6, and please comment by Thursday, January 3, on Morrow Pacific project proponent Ambre Energy’s removal-fill permit application to the Oregon Department of State Lands, to build coal transfer facilities at Boardman, Oregon.  For more information, see WIRT member Nick Gier’s essay, Coal Trains Threaten Environment and Public Health, this WIRT website post, and the December 19 WIRT Newsletter: Solstice Party, Coal Export Comments, Hearings, & Other News.

Federal, state, and county decision makers have dismissed the comparatively rural inland Northwest again!  On Tuesday, December 4, between 4 and 7 pm at the Spokane County Fairgrounds Plaza, 404 North Havana Street in Spokane, Washington, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Washington Department of Ecology, and Whatcom County are holding an environmental impact statement (EIS) scoping hearing in Spokane, Washington, about the proposed Gateway Pacific Terminal (GPT) coal port facilities at Cherry Point near Bellingham.  On the same night, December 4, at 6 pm in the River Front conference room of the Port of Morrow, 2 Marine Drive in Boardman, the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) is hosting a public information meeting to answer questions and receive comments about Ambre Energy’s pending air and water pollution permit applications for its proposed Coyote Island coal terminal facility at the Port of Morrow.  None of these regulatory agencies have offered hearings for residents living and working along the railroad funnel between Sandpoint, Idaho, and Spokane or near coal train routes through major population centers across Idaho and Montana.

The world’s biggest private coal company, Peabody Energy, plans to haul 54 million tons of Powder River Basin coal per year on Burlington Northern Santa Fe rail lines through Montana, Idaho, eastern Washington, the Columbia River Gorge, and the populous Puget Sound to the largest coal port in North America, the GPT proposed by Carrix/SSA Marine and Goldman Sachs.  Over 950 immense, polluting coal ships per year would navigate tangled Salish Sea islands and waters already crowded with oil tankers, to export coal from huge, open-air heaps dumped at an aquatic reserve.  Through its Morrow Pacific coal export project sidestepping a more stringent EIS with only an environmental assessment, the Australian company Ambre Energy hopes to fast-track its plot to move almost nine million tons of strip-mined Montana/Wyoming coal per year by train across Montana, Idaho, and Washington to the port, store the combustible filth in buildings, tow it in covered barges through the critical Columbia River habitat of endangered species to Port Westward in Clatskanie, and load it over the water at a Port of Saint Helens dock onto ocean-going ships for overseas markets.  For this first of two dirty coal export ventures planned by Ambre, the majority owner of the proposed Millennium Bulk Logistics coal port just ten miles upstream of Port Westward in Longview, Washington, Ambre already applied for a removal-fill permit with the Oregon Department of State Lands, which almost 17,000 citizens petitioned to deny during its second 30-day comment period.

Substantial taxpayer investments would support the required coal export project infrastructure and mitigate the predictable damages of this corporate onslaught.  Each of the 40 to 60 additional coal trains per day, 1.5 miles long with their 125 cars, spew toxic coal dust, diesel fumes, derailed loads, and incessant noise, disrupt local transportation, businesses, emergency responses, and economies, and degrade public health, quality of life, property values, and regional identity.  Five proposed West Coast and Columbia River coal terminals and ship transport of coal to Asian markets for combustion would compromise air and water quality, jeopardize aquatic ecosystems and fisheries, and significantly exacerbate global climate change.

With two simultaneous coal export hearings on December 4, do eastern Washingtonians, Idahoans, and Montanans have to travel all the way to either Spokane or Boardman and even to the Portland area on December 5 or 6 to voice our outrage over both of these industrial rampages?  Ideally, we hope for equal amounts of oral testimony at the Boardman and Spokane hearings from citizens of all four Northwestern states.  High demonstration and hearing turnouts from beyond the geographically limited scope of the Oregon- and Washington-only hearings could challenge and extend further environmental review of these dirty energy schemes.  Contact Mark Fisher of the Oregon DEQ (541-633-2022, fisher.mark@deq.state.or.us) about the Coyote Island coal port and reach the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (360-398-5087, comments@eisgatewaypacificwa.gov) about the Cherry Point coal terminal.  Demand December 4 hearing re-scheduling and a mine-to-port programmatic environmental impact study/statement for both ludicrous proposals!  Tell them that Idahoans and Montanans will legally challenge the legitimacy of their exclusionary scoping process if they do not offer public comment hearings in our states and acknowledge the concerns of communities most adversely affected by potential coal export train traffic.

Anti-coal organizers recommend perusing the websites and/or subscribing to the facebook pages of Coal-Free Bellingham, Coal-Free Spokane, Coal-Free Washington, Coal Train Facts, Columbia Riverkeeper, and Power Past Coal, to learn more about proposed regional coal exports.  Attend the hearings and preceding rallies and press conferences at 3 pm in Spokane and at 5 pm in Boardman (both on December 4 for now…) with your spirit of dirty energy resistance, protest signs, and written and/or oral comments.  Please join and share the facebook announcement for these events, described at Four-State Coal Export Protests & Hearings and planned by participants of the November 3 Stand Up! Fight Back! Against Big Coal in the Northwest workshop.  Also see and join the facebook notice for the Spokane scoping hearing, posted by Coal-Free Spokane as Coal Export Hearing – Spokane – 3 PM and join the facebook group Stand Up Fight Back Against Big Coal in the Northwest.

On Saturday, November 17, between noon and 4 pm or later, activists from eastern Washington, northern Idaho, and beyond are converging in Sandpoint, Idaho, to stage demonstrations and distribute information, raising public awareness and participation in opposition to Northwest mines, trains, and ports proposed for coal export to China.  To engage and encourage more Idaho citizen involvement in the December 4 hearings on two  planned coal export terminals, our Sandpoint street theater in several high vehicle/pedestrian traffic areas entails forming a people’s train composed of at least a dozen protesters each carrying a standard four-by-four-foot “rail car” with anti-coal statements, created from painted two-dimensional cardboard.  We will also provide Northwest coal issue flyers and project spotlighted messages after dark such as “No Coal Exports” and “Coal Kills.”

Through this Sandpoint action, we intend to recruit, establish, and motivate a direct action network of advocates in the northern Idaho vicinity of rail lines.  Coal export protests will not only occur at the Boardman and Spokane hearings and in Sandpoint but also regionally and simultaneously before the January 21 comment deadline for the Gateway Pacific Terminal near Bellingham.  As our federal, state, and county officials discount the objections of eastern Washingtonians, Idahoans, and Montanans, through their distant displays of purported public participation, we, the people from these wild and wonderful places, need to powerfully demonstrate our resistance of the industry and government perpetrators of pollution and climate change.

Public protesters/educators will depart at 8 am on Saturday, November 17, from the Wild Idaho Rising Tide Activist House in Moscow (call for the address) and at 10 am from the Occupy Spokane Clubhouse in Spokane (1808 East Sprague Avenue).  Car and van pools will meet at noon in the Safeway parking lot in Sandpoint (702 North Fifth Avenue), near the Larch Street and North Fifth Avenue intersection.  For further information, to RSVP, or to offer questions, suggestions, or support, contact Occupy Spokane at 509-535-4040 or ocspch@gmail.com and connect with Wild Idaho Rising Tide at 208-301-8039 or wild.idaho.rising.tide@gmail.com.  Take part and/or spread the word about these actions, especially among your friends and comrades in northern Idaho!

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6 thoughts on “Four-State Coal Export Protests & Hearings

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