No Coal Eugene presents “Northwest Coal Export & The Community Bill of Rights,” a pamphlet with lots of info on coal export, how it affects Eugene and how it can be stopped. We’ll be distributing hard copies around Eugene and at neighborhood events. Please share with your friends!
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BACKGROUND ON COAL EXPORT
The coal giants — Peabody, Arch, and the like — are seeking outlets in the Pacific Northwest to export strip-mined coal from the Powder River Basin in Montana and Wyoming to Asian markets. They have proposed six coal export terminal projects in Cherry Point, Longview and Grays Harbor, Wash., and St. Helens, Boardman and Coos Bay, Ore. If all of the proposals succeed, over 150 million tons of coal would be shipped through the Northwest every year. That’s three times the whole country’s current coal export.
In December 2011, the Port of Coos Bay announced “Project Mainstay,” a collaboration between the Port of Coos Bay and “unnamed partners” to build a coal export terminal on the North Spit. Of the six ports considering export proposals, Coos Bay is the only one that hasn’t disclosed the name of the coal company it’s in talks with. The Sierra Club and Beyond Toxics have requested information on the plans. The Port charged each group over $20,000 in fees for the documents and appealed the Coos County District Attorney’s decision to waive most of the fees.2 Oregonians still don’t know the details of the deal and how it will affect them.
Coos Bay was previously seen as a less viable port for coal export because of depth and accessibility. Last year, however, the Port of Coos Bay updated and reopened the Eugene-Coos Bay Rail Link, and in December Oregon’s Department of State Lands approved a plan to dredge the Coos Bay estuary.
Project Mainstay would have at least two full trains to Coos Bay and two empty trains back to the Powder River Basin rolling through Eugene every day.3 The trains typically carry 125 cars with 120 tons of coal per car and measure a mile and a half. Normal freighters require one diesel locomotive; coal trains need four.
WHY OPPOSE COAL EXPORT
To protect our local health, safety and environment:
Because coal is highly combustible, it must be transported in well ventilated — usually open-topped — train cars. And because the cars are uncovered, 500 pounds to a ton of coal dust can escape from each car while in transit, about three percent of its cargo. Coal dust contains heavy metals including arsenic, cadmium, benzene, mercury and lead, and is known to cause pulmonary fibrosis and chronic bronchitis. Increased train traffic also means increased diesel exhaust, which is known to cause cancer, heart attack, stroke and asthma.
In Whatcom County, Washington, where Bellingham and surrounding communities will be impacted by the Cherry Point coal export terminal, over 160 physicians have come out against coal export. In Oregon, 130 doctors have asked Governor Kitzhaber to order a comprehensive “health impact assessment.” Physicians opposing coal export are primarily concerned with the effect of diesel particulates on pulmonary and neurological functions.
If Big Coal gets its way, everyone within five miles of the West Eugene train yard could experience an increased risk of asthma and cancer, especially in children and folks who have pre-existing respiratory problems. In Eugene, the Trainsong, River Road, Bethel and Whiteaker neighborhoods are particularly vulnerable. Other health and safety concerns include noise pollution, increased railroad mortality, and obstruction of emergency vehicle access.
An estimated 48,977 acres of land in the Northwest will be directly impacted by coal dust in export to Asia (see report “Heavy Traffic Ahead”). The accumulation of coal dust could damage our crops, contaminate our water, pollute our air, and poison our wildlife. Coal dust, as BNSF Railroad admits, corrodes and undermines rail infrastructure, so coal trains have a high risk of derailment. Five coal trains derailed in the U.S. within two-and-a-half weeks during the summer of 2012, one of them just outside the Columbia River Gorge in Washington. What’s to prevent a coal train from derailing in Eugene, or on neighboring farmland, or into the Fern Ridge Reservoir?
To support communities impacted by strip mining, coal dust, dredging and pollution where coal is burned:
Coal pollutes at every step of the way, from mine to power plant. Where it is mined, people put up with coal dust, nitrous oxide clouds from strip-mining explosives, poisonous tailing ponds that threaten water supplies, and ecological destruction. Black lung disease is increasing among mine workers despite tighter industry regulations.
Where coal is transported, people breathe in unsafe levels of diesel exhaust and coal dust, and dredging threatens local fisheries.
Where it is burned, coal causes asthma and lung disease. In 2011, the American Lung Association attributed over 13,000 deaths to power plant pollution, coal-fired plants being the main culprit. Dozens of coal-fired power plants across the midwest and east coast will be phased out in the next five years because of the risk they pose to public health. Coal exports will add our pollution as well, increasing the supply of our dirtiest fossil fuel to places where there is little to no regulation of coal-fired power plants. If coal is bad for our children, it is bad for children in Asia as well.
To discourage the use of fossil fuels as global climate change reaches the point of no return:
If all six ports build coal export terminals, 150 million tons of coal will be shipped from the Northwest to Asia every year. When this coal is burned it will release roughly 262 million tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. This affects everyone.
U.S. communities have been working hard to lessen our dependence on fossil fuels. Coal export is a step backwards. The Boardman Coal Plant, Oregon’s last coal-burning utility, is scheduled to close in 2020. It burns 3 million tons of coal per year. If Project Mainstay succeeds, Coos Bay’s annual coal export could be as high as 10 million tons. (Coos Bay is one of the smaller proposed terminals; the largest is Cherry Point, which will export 44 million tons a year.)
To prevent the investment of public money and labor in volatile markets:
Oregon has tried to export coal before. The 1982 coal export partnership between the Port of Portland and Pacific Coal failed because the demand for coal plummeted. The public’s time, land and money invested into the project were wasted. There is no guarantee that coal export will be a worthwhile investment for the Pacific Northwest, and it may negatively impact local economies by impeding traffic to business districts, clogging up rail lines that are used for public transit and regional commerce, and lowering property values in the vicinity of the rail line.
If we’re going to invest in infrastructure to create jobs, shouldn’t it be in a market that promises steady employment for the future? We can do better than coal.
WHAT EUGENE CAN DO ABOUT IT: THE COMMUNITY BILL OF RIGHTS
140 communities across the country have successfully kept ecologically destructive industries (such as fracking, factory farming, toxic dumping, and water privatization) out of their municipalities by creating community bills of rights — a kind of legislation that gives communities the autonomy they need to decide what’s right for themselves. No Coal Eugene is proposing a Eugene Bill of Rights ordinance for the November 2013 ballot to keep coal trains out of our city limits. Read the ordinance in full at NoCoalEugene.org/ordinance. Here are some excerpts:
- “The people of Eugene recognize that environmental and economic sustainability cannot be achieved if the rights of municipal majorities are routinely overridden by corporate minorities claiming certain legal powers.” (Section 3)
- “Natural communities and ecosystems, including, but not limited to, flora, fauna, the atmosphere, soils, wetlands, rivers and other water systems, possess inalienable and fundamental rights to exist and flourish within the City of Eugene.” (Section 5.2)
- “The people at all times enjoy and retain an inalienable and indefeasible right to self-governance in the community where they reside.” (Section 5.4)
- “Corporations in violation of the prohibition against the transport of coal shall not have the rights of ‘persons’ afforded by the United States and Oregon Constitutions, nor shall those corporations be afforded the protections of the commerce or contracts clauses within the United States Constitution or corresponding sections of the Oregon Constitution.” (Section 6.2)
The ordinance is based on a similar initiative by the people of Bellingham, Wash. — visit Coal-Free-Bellingham.org for more info. This rights-based approach to organizing was pioneered by the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF.org).
But how does it work? If BNSF sends a coal train down our tracks, how will a community bill of rights stop it?
In every case that communities have asserted their rights with local ordinances, corporations have either taken their pollution elsewhere or taken the locals to court. At the very least, a city ordinance would slow the coal company down. In order to overturn the ordinance, the company would have to admit in court that they valued their own right to commerce over our community’s right to health and safety. Out of 140 local ordinances, only two have been challenged. By showing strong community resistance to coal export, we could send those polluters packing.
Why do we need a local initiative? Why not use the established channels? Don’t we have laws and agencies to keep our air and water clean?
Our regulatory system actually favors the rights of corporations by allowing them to mitigate — rather than stop — harm to communities. Under our current system, coal companies do not have to ask for permission to bring their pollution through our town. If an industry pollutes our air and water and causes harm to our children, shouldn’t we have the right to decide if we want it around?
Really, our coal train problem is a democracy problem. The few who profit from coal export have all the decision making power, while the many who are harmed by it have no say. Rights-based organizing steps outside the power structure. It says we know what’s best for us, our health, our land, our economy.