Both gubernatorial candidates Jay Inslee (D) and Rob McKenna (R) have said they would weigh the job-creation benefits that proposed coal terminals would bring to Washington state against the impacts identified in the coming Environmental Impact Statements (EIS). After the election, what’s truly at stake for communities situated along the rail lines comes down to whether residents come out to voice their opinions on plans to potentially transport 150 million tons of coal per year through their neighborhoods.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the lead agency for the EIS under federal law, is currently conducting an area-wide analysis of five proposed coal-export terminals in Washington and Oregon. One of those proposed terminals — in Cherry Point, near Bellingham — if built, would result in 48 million tons of coal being transported daily on nine trains, each up to 150 cars long (or 1.5 miles), through Queen Anne and Magnolia.
Whatcom County and the state Department of Ecology are the agencies conducting the EIS under state law.
Together with the Army Corps of Engineers, the three agencies are conducting the EIS process for the proposed terminal projects and will jointly produce one EIS. Through scoping, the agencies will decide what impacts to analyze in the EIS by asking other agencies, tribes and the public to comment.
Washington residents get their chance to chime in at one of seven scheduled public scoping meetings on the impacts of the proposed coal terminals. The next meeting closest to Queen Anne and Magnolia is scheduled for Nov. 13 at North Seattle Community College, and it’s likely to be crowded.
Noise, air pollution
Hundreds showed up to testify at the first public scoping meeting in Cherry Point on Oct. 27. Concerns raised by those opposed to the terminals have centered on potential public health and safety hazards; those in support of the terminals pointed to job creation.
Queen Anne resident Leonard Rodenberg summarized his concerns in written testimony: “There are many sources of noise from trains, such as high-pitch screeching, idling engines, moving cars and horns sounding. That train noise has been a fact-of-life at our home.
“Having lived on the west slope of Queen Anne overlooking Balmer Yard in Interbay since 1983, I can personally attest to the fact that things have gradually gotten busier and noisier over the years,” he continued. “Sitting in my backyard I’ve noticed a steady increase in the number of locomotives revving up their engines inside the roundhouse. There are more and longer trains heading north and south along the lines. There are more horns blowing and high-pitched screeching of the wheels. There is more banging of the boxcars as they are being assembled into a train.
“The tracks and yard were here before we moved into the area. We’ve lived with the noise and expected that it would gradually increase over the years. But there is a limit to our tolerance,” he concluded.
Magnolia resident Patrick Maguire also pointed to pollution, traffic and the potential for shipping accidents in his testimony. “We, in the beautiful Magnolia area, wish to continue living in this great part of Seattle without foul, polluted and poisonous air,” Maguire wrote.
Clean air has been the No. 1 concern for the Sierra Club’s Coal Free Washington campaign. The Sierra Club has stated, “The single-most important step that we can take to address climate change is to transition away from burning highly polluting coal toward cleaner forms of energy. The potential export of over 100 million tons of PRB (Powder River Basin) coal annually to global markets would be a devastating step backward, contributing [more than] 200 million tons of CO2 annually to the atmosphere.”
Be specific in concerns
The Sierra Club also reminds Seattle residents that the scoping process provides the first formal opportunity for the public to express concerns and opposition to coal exports, which will inform key decision-makers’ approval or denial of permits needed to build the terminal.
Jean Melious, a professor at the Center for Geography and Environmental Social Sciences at Western Washington University, said in an interview with CoalFilm.com that it was important for people to understand the intent of the scoping process and to submit comments in a way that will send a proper message to the agencies.
“One thing during the scoping session people need to make sure that they do is aim their comments at environmental impacts,” Melious explained. “A lot of times on EISs, people will say, ‘I oppose this project; I don’t want it done.’ At this stage in the process the agencies don’t have to pay attention to those comments because that’s not what they’re analyzing. What they’re analyzing are environmental impacts. So, when people are commenting, the best thing they can do is to make sure that they’re saying, ‘I want you to review this environmental impact for this reason,’ as opposed to, ‘I really hate this; turn it down.’”
The Seattle Coal Export Hearing takes place Nov. 13, from 4 to 7 p.m. at North Seattle Community College, 9600 College Way North.
For those who may not be able to attend one of the scoping meetings in person, comments can be submitted online at www.eisgatewaypacificwa.gov/get-involved/comment.