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.

Coal Impacts, Protests, & Support

Several coal trains per day currently pass from Montana and Wyoming mines, through Missoula, Sandpoint, and other inland Northwest communities, to Canadian ports that ship coal overseas.  If state and federal agencies grant pending permits to precariously financed coal companies, to begin construction of controversial new coal export terminals in Oregon and Washington and to open vast eastern Montana lands to coal mining, the number of full and empty coal trains moving through the region each day could increase by as many as thirty.  Unlike the threatened impacts of oil trains, each of the dozens of additional, heavy coal trains per day, 1.5 miles long with their 125 cars, would incessantly spew toxic coal dust, diesel fumes, noise, and periodically derailed loads (especially in and around Lake Pend Oreille), would disrupt local transportation, businesses, emergency responses, and economies, and would degrade railroad tracks, native lands and watersheds, property values, public health, quality of life, and regional identity.  These corporate ventures would cost substantial taxpayer investments supporting the required project infrastructure and mitigating the predictable damages of coal export.  Three 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.

But as coal export by rail through the region massively increases, coal and railroad companies can expect increasingly frequent protests, including acts of nonviolent civil disobedience that express heightened concerns about this onslaught, like these August 12 and 16 demonstrations.  Residents of four states will continue to work with the hundreds of frontline communities who live along railroad sacrifice zones, to stop polluting coal trains by every means.  As we together peacefully escalate this movement against dirty energy in new and bolder ways, organizing citizens and pressuring coal and railroad companies and supportive political officials through further, coordinated, regional actions resisting coal export, we ask that you support the grassroots groups who daily risk their freedom to protect our communities and climate from the coal, oil, and gas industries.  Please donate to the legal defense fund of Blue Skies Campaign and help cover the travel and legal costs crucial to Wild Idaho Rising Tide’s ongoing work [7, 8].

Critical Coal Export Permit Denied!

According to Brett VandenHeuvel, executive director of Columbia Riverkeeper, the Oregon Department of State Lands (DSL) on Monday denied a removal/fill permit necessary for Ambre Energy’s proposed Morrow Pacific coal export facilities on the Columbia River in Boardman, Oregon: the Coyote Island Terminal [9].  In the wake of coal export protests in Boardman, Missoula, and Sandpoint over the last week, this news offers welcome relief that Ambre Energy’s coal export dreaming days are numbered.  The financially risky, Australia-based company would ship 8.8 million tons of coal per year on hundreds of coal trains through the region and on thousands of coal barges down the Columbia River, further disrupting our climate with dangerous carbon pollution.  This DSL decision represents a defining, historic moment for the Northwest and the entire country of activists and communities resisting coal exports and other mega fossil fuel projects.  It ensures that Ambre cannot immediately start construction on its coal train terminal dock and warehouses at Boardman and thus offers temporary protection of clean water and climate, healthy salmon and wildlife, and strong public health, safety, and economies.  While the Oregon DEQ deliberates its possible issuance of key water quality permits, please contact the state agency and insist that it upholds the best interests of regional citizens [10].

Congratulations and thanks!

[1] Northwest Communities Oppose Coal Exports: Join the Action on August 16 (Blue Skies Campaign)

[2] Northwest Communities Oppose Coal Exports (Blue Skies Campaign)

[3] Northwest Communities Oppose Coal Exports (August 16, 2014 Wild Idaho Rising Tide)

[4] Greg Sotir photo (August 14, 2014 Columbia Riverkeeper)

[5] Montana Writer and Missoula Community Members Delay Coal Train (August 16, 2014 Blue Skies Campaign)

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

[7] Donate (Blue Skies Campaign)

[8] Support WIRT (Wild Idaho Rising Tide)

[9] Victory! Coal Export Permit Denied! (August 18, 2014 Columbia Riverkeeper)

[10] Public Hearing: DEQ Draft 401 Water Quality Certification for Ambre Energy (August 6, 2014 Columbia Riverkeeper)

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