Coal shipping raises concerns

By Observer editorial December 10, 2012 12:24 pm

It’s unfortunate when local environmentalists have to pile into a car in La Grande and drive 97 miles to Boardman, over the sometimes treacherous Blue Mountains, to get to a DEQ hearing on a proposal to ship coal through the Northwest.

Hearings should be held at every significant town along the rail lines, and we consider La Grande a significant town. 

Sure, coal consumption by the power sector is down 14 percent in the United States in 2012 from 2011. What’s more, new rules for power plant emissions are forcing new coal plants from keeping carbon out of the atmosphere. Now, however, the coal industry is proposing train and port projects including one that would directly impact La Grande. Ambre Energy wants to bring 8.8 million tons of coal by train to the Port of Morrow from the Powder River Basin of Montana and Wyoming. The coal would then be barged to Port Westward in Clatskanie and loaded on ships bound for Asia, primarily China, South Korea and India. 

Local environmentalists have raised legitimate concerns about the coal trains that could pass through town and the dust that could cause health problems like asthma and pulmonary diseases. They also worry that by exporting 100 million tons of coal from the Pacific coast to Asia, the United States’ own carbon footprint would be very much bigger than it should be as we struggle with climate change issues. 

The hearings should not just be held in Boardman, Portland and Clatskanie. They should also be held in Pendleton, La Grande and Baker City and all the other towns along the line. Too much is at stake to rubber stamp this project.