Report on Three Actions: Northwest Communities Oppose Coal Exports


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Northwest Communities Oppose Coal Exports 8-16-14 (August 16, 2014 Wild Idaho Rising Tide photos)

During the week of August 10, grassroots groups and peaceful protesters coordinated and staged regional actions against increased coal train traffic in interior Northwest communities and West Coast coal exports [1-3].  Sponsored by several climate and tribal organizations, including 350-Missoula, Blue Skies Campaign, the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation (CTUIR), Indian People’s Action, and Wild Idaho Rising Tide, activists held gatherings, speeches, rallies, marches, and train blockades in eastern Oregon, Idaho, and Montana.  Together, they catalyzed growing inland Northwest opposition largely dismissed by federal and state regulatory processes determining the fate of Powder River Basin coal mines and three proposed coal export facilities at Cherry Point and Longview, Washington, and Boardman, Oregon.

Boardman, Oregon

On Tuesday, August 12, over 40 dedicated people from western Oregon and about a dozen folks from eastern Oregon traveled up to 12 hours via bus and passenger vehicles, through summer storms with wind gusts, heavy rain, and lightning, to the Port of Morrow conference center in Boardman, Oregon [4].  At the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) public hearing on a 401 water quality certification for Ambre Energy’s Morrow Pacific coal train terminal, coal export opponents convened a lovely pre-hearing picnic, packed the room, and voiced resistance through about 75 percent of the amazing citizen testimony and inquiries during a DEQ question-and-(un)answer session.  Among health professionals, longshore and warehouse union workers, and eastern Oregon residents, Umatilla tribal representatives spoke powerfully against coal export impacts, offering many compelling reasons to deny state permit approval.  Chief Carl Sampson of the Wallulapum Tribe of the CTUIR welcomed coal export opponents and offered strong words, as did his daughter Cathy Sampson-Kruse, his granddaughter Mariah, and Umatilla Board of Trustees Chairman Gary Burke.

Missoula, Montana

Saturday, August 16, brought nonviolent civil disobedience to a Missoula, Montana, rail line for the second time this year, as Montana writer Rick Bass and three concerned Missoula community members stood on both sides of train tracks and temporarily delayed a coal train [5].  While 50 supporters cheered from the sidelines and forced an inbound coal train to crawl through Hellgate Canyon, police arrested and removed the four brave protesters from the path of the oncoming train in the railroad right-of-way, citing them for trespass and releasing them for appearances in court next week.  In April 2014, police similarly arrested seven people during civil disobedience that delayed an outbound train carrying coal.  Author of nonfiction novels and books, Rick Bass read from his current work to the gathering of coal export opponents and asserted that uncovered, dirty coal shipments by rail through Montana towns, moving all the time through all kinds of weather, violate the Montana constitution and contribute toward still correctable climate change.

Sandpoint, Idaho

In the midst of an intensive week of tar sands refinery megaload protests in northern Idaho, Wild Idaho Rising Tide and allied activists gathered in Sandpoint, Idaho, on Saturday, August 16, for a rally, march, and protest of coal export trains traversing and polluting Lake Pend Oreille, the fifth deepest lake in the U.S. [6]  Meeting in Farmin Park, friends and family members brought their protest signs, voices, and chants, and walked through the various parts of the Farmers’ Market at Sandpoint, distributing WIRT brochures and urging convergence and participation in the upcoming march.  Activists walked and chanted “Save Our Lake, No Coal Trains!” for a mile on downtown sidewalks and along the paved, lakeside Sagle-to-Sandpoint community trail that merges into the pedestrian bridge paralleling the two-mile vehicular span of the U.S. Highway 95 Long Bridge.  Among human and canine visitors and swimmers at the sandy, public Dog Beach between the highway and the mile-long, railroad trestle bridge, on which dusty coal trains cross Lake Pend Oreille, participants stood in solidarity with regional action partners and 75 Northwest activists arrested during coal export protests over the last few years.  They supported and immediately shared news of Missoula rail line blockaders arrested concurrently and of the Confederated Umatilla Tribes’ honorable rejection of Morrow Pacific bribes to build and benefit from the Coyote Island Terminal in Boardman.  Local protesters noted that the nearby train tracks remained eerily but thankfully vacant during the hours-long Sandpoint action. Continue reading