Opposition to coal export from the US Pacific Northwest is growing with a number of Environmental Impact Statement Scoping Meetings being held late last year with citizens making an active stand against coal export and climate change. Last week 425 residents of Salem Oregon Sounded the Alarm on coal exports.
The march last Thursday gathered at Westlake Center in Seattle at 3pm before undertaking the 3.8 mile walk from downtown to the SSA Marine Office/Terminal. There were drums and rattles, banners and signs for the long walk to the port area. The march was escorted by police. At one stage they were delayed by a train, which provided an opportunity to dance while waiting.
First nation people rejects Cherry Point coal loader
One of the organisers, Olivia One Feather, had prepared an open letter to SSA Marine, which was signed by many on the march and taped to the front door of the SSA Marine office and terminal. Here is what the letter said:
March 20, 2013
To: SSA Marine
1131 SW Klickitat Way
Seattle, WA 98134
I am writing you today with great concern in my heart. I feel it's necessary that the community reaches out to you and all of the organizations involved with the proposed sites for the Coal terminals and the train routes to those terminals with dirty coal on board. One of these sites is Cherry Point, sacred land to the Lummi Nation. I want you to know, that I find that this completely unacceptable behaviour on every level of humanity.
I ask that your company withdraw your support of this project. I understand that business has diminished for the port of Seattle with the Grand Alliance moving to the Tacoma port. However life is about change, the time for change has now fallen upon you. Be creative and find other ways to take care of your displaced employees. Desecrating Mother Earth and all of her children is no longer an option for you or any other companies for that matter. You must look inside yourselves ask for guidance from our Creator for the next step for your company. I will not idly stand by and let you continue about business in the way that you have and continue to do to this very day.
Your terminal is well known in the shipping industry for abusive behaviour to the drivers that come into your facilities as well as damaging their equipment with no recourse for them to be reimbursed. These are our brothers and sisters and they should be treated with respect and dignity.
With that being said this is your opportunity to change your course and do the right thing. Please do so. We will not stop until you withdraw from these or any similar plans around this dirty Coal. The health of all of us in the Pacific Northwest and along the proposed route is not on the table for your profit. Think with your heart and soul instead of your wallet.
Olivia One Feather
Watch highlights of the march and speeches on Youtube: INM Global Day of Action: SSA Marine Coal Train Terminal Seattle
SSA Marine through their subsidiary Pacific International Terminals have proposed to build the Gateway Pacific Terminal. SSA Marine is owned by Carrix (who is partnered with Goldman Sachs). The coal loader terminal at Cherry Point would be the largest coal export facility in North America with an initial capacity of 24 million tons when completed in 2015 and growing to 54 million tons by 2026.
Peabody Energy would mine the coal from the Powder River Basin, which would then be hauled by train along BNSF rail lines from the Wyoming and Montana mines through Sandpoint, Idaho to Spokane, down through the Columbia River Gorge, then up along the Puget Sound coast, passing through Longview, Tacoma, Seattle, Edmonds, Everett, MT. Vernon, Bellingham, and Ferndale.
The site of the terminal, Cherry Point is known as Xwe' chi' eXen to the Lummi first nation people who have lived on the shores of Puget Sound for thousands of years. It was the site for a tribal village for 175 generations. There are underwater archeological remains from reef net fishing which was practiced here.
Shellfish, herring and salmon were all harvested in the area. The site is associated with the Lummi people creation story and the First Salmon Ceremony. In the waters of Cherry Point Lummi fishermen still harvest halibut, salmon, herring, crab and shellfish. But for how long once the bulk carriers start carrying the coal away to Asia, predominantly China.
While the Lummi people are affected by the Cherry Point coal loader, the concern on coal export is much broader. 57 tribal nations came together at a convention last year to call for a full environmental analysis of proposals to export coal from up to five ports in Oregon and Washington.
Health Impacts and Climate Change
But it isn't only the desecration of sacred sites that concerns people. It is the health impacts of hauling millions of tonnes of coal by rail nearly 1300 miles away which will affect people living all along the rail corridor. It is burning that coal in Asia and China releasing pollution which will drift over the Pacific to again affect people in North America. And the cumulative impact of the release of carbon dioxide which is warming the planet and affecting the weather systems, and climate for us all.
Dr Patrick O'Herron, Trauma and acute care surgeon, spoke at the Salem Oregon Sound the Alarm rally last week and outlined the health consequences if these coal export terminals proceed.
Various reports have estimated that much as a ton of coal can escape from a single loaded coal car, and sometimes as much as 3 percent of a coal car's load, which is typically 100 tons or more, can blow away in transit. This coal dust is ingested by people living or working along the rail corridor. The coal dust also settles on the tracks in the ballast and can contribute to derailments.
Powder River Basin coal is known for it's handling difficulties and tends to break down into smaller particles virtually independent of how the coal is transported or handled. Spontaneous combustion has also been known to occur in confined environments - like a rail car.
The Sightline Institute report warns that pollution generated in Asia already impacts the Pacific Northwest. Sending more coal will further exacerbate this:
"Sulfur compounds, soot, and other byproducts of Asian coal combustion are detectable on mountaintops in the western United States. Researchers have also linked ozone in the air above the United States to pollution from developing Asian countries that are burning fossil fuels. Ozone can exacerbate asthma and heart disease. Mercury, a neurotoxin that is particularly dangerous for children, is especially likely to travel across the Pacific Ocean. An Oregon researcher estimates that as much as 18 percent of the mercury in Oregon's Willamette River comes from sources overseas, increasingly from China. Another study found that human-created pollution from Asia contributed to 14 percent of the mercury dropped on Mount Bachelor in central Oregon."
While the Northern Cheyenne peoples have resisted coal mining since the 1960s, the tribal council is under a lot of pressure to allow mining for the economic benefits it could bring to the reservation. But there is still very vocal opposition to exploiting the coal both from the Northern Cheyenne people and white ranchers. The Montana State Land Board granted a lease to Arch Coal, which resulted in overwhelming opposition during public meetings in November 2012.
- Eric de Place, Sightline Institute, April 2012, Northwest Coal Exports Some common questions about economics, health, and pollution
- Lummi Nation website: Sovereignty and Treaty Protection for the Lummi Nation
- Jack McNeel, December 17, 2012 - Indian Country Today Media Network - Railroad to Disaster? Inland Tribes Fight to Avert Coal-Train Destruction
- Youtube by Ministry of Diplomats, 22 March 2013: INM Global Day of Action: SSA Marine Coal Train Terminal Seattle