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Originally published October 2, 2012 at 4:18 PM | Page modified October 3, 2012 at 8:56 AM

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Editorial: Coal trains, terminals need comprehensive environmental reviews

The Army Corps of Engineers should provide area-wide environmental reviews of coal-export facilities that impact lives in four states.

Seattle Times Editorial

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None of the five active plans to ship coal from the Powder River Basin to China via proposed coal ports in Washington and Oregon exists in isolation.

That is why the Army Corps of Engineers must initiate expansive reviews of the environmental, health and transportation issues related to moving millions of tons of coal by dozens of trains each day.

Communities from Spokane to Washougal and Edmonds would be impacted daily by the coal bound for China out of Cherry Point, north of Bellingham.

Other massive terminals are proposed for Longview, and Port Westward, Coos Bay and the Port of Morrow in Oregon.

The Army Corps needs to commit to broad, area-wide analysis of the proposals and how they are intertwined. Comprehensive environmental-impact statements are the device to employ.

Cities, counties and commissions in Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Montana have called for the reviews. Legions of elected local, state and federal officials are on record in favor of extensive environmental reviews and public hearings on coal exports.

Supporting job creation does not preclude a desire for comprehensive reviews.

The concern expressed by mayors and governors and the leaders of community, medical and faith groups cuts across any debate about the potential boost to local employment and economies.

They believe there are too many unknown details about the extent of the port-development plans, along with the eventual scale of the coal deliveries through cities and towns, and the potentiallocal and global hazards to human health and the environment.

Geography puts cities such as Spokane and Billings, Mont., in the path of virtually every train that rolls out of the Powder River Basin.

Tribal organizations are stepping up with their concerns. On Sept. 21 hundreds of members of the Lummi Nation gathered at Cherry Point to express their opposition to a facility on ground that is home to ancestral village and burial sites.

State and local jurisdictions have a powerful hand to play in their control over issuance of a variety of permits.

Ignoring the intense demand for comprehensive environmental and health reviews at each site, and the impacts across sites and the communities they touch, makes no sense.

The proposed coal-export terminals and coal trains raise questions that deserve answers.

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