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Originally published Friday, May 25, 2012 at 3:58 PM

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Coal trains through Washington: few benefits, much to fear

Washingtonians need to take note of the increasing number of open-bed coal cars passing through their communities, with coal dust and global pollution at the forefront of concern as the shipments make their way to China, writes guest columnist Liz Talley.

Special to The Times

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These trains are running on a federally chartered common carrier railroad. Local... MORE
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COMMUNITIES across our state are looking at train tracks as a threat to the environment as an ever-growing number of open-bed coal cars pass by.

From Spokane, along the Columbia River, and up our pristine coast, through the Sodo area, by our sports stadiums, through Interbay and Golden Gardens Park, trains with four or five engines are increasingly pulling 125-plus cars full of coal, as they transport this product from Wyoming to Canada for shipment to China.

As China demands more coal, new shipping ports are being planned, including one in the Bellingham area at Cherry Point. An increase of approximately 18 trains a day — approximately 1,000 to 1,500 open-bed cars filled with coal — is being proposed to pass through our communities daily as part of these coal shipments to China.

As I look at the railroad tracks in Ballard and reflect on why it's so great to live along Puget Sound, and as frustration mounts from watching coal being shipped from Wyoming across our community to create dirty energy far away on our planet, I feel that it is important to share information about this with my neighbors and see if others are also concerned about what we are about to give up if this challenge goes unmet.

There are many things to think about when looking at the proposed increase in coal trains in our community, but three of the big issues to me are these:

• Coal dust is toxic, unhealthy, possibly linked to lung cancer and asthma, and is a byproduct of shipping coal in open-bed trains;

• Traffic on the rail lines impacts our cities and transportation flow, especially as increased train traffic is being proposed;

• Coal is a dirty source of energy. Our turning a blind eye on the use of our state to export to China says we are fine playing a role in further pollution of the global environment.

Watching the coal trains pass along our local beach, I feel as though this is a turning point that runs in direct opposition to all environmental concerns of our state and coastline. Increased ocean freighters and potential pollutants to the sea only compound the problem of keeping our coastline clean.

To learn more about the challenges coming with the proposed increase in coal shipments through our community, information is available at facebook.com/powerpastcoal, from the Sierra Club, Climate Solutions, and at powerpastcoal.org.

Our waterfronts, health and impacts to our environment are all on the line. If we learn more about what is in store for us, we can make more informed choices for our future. As I see it, there are so few benefits to us, and so much at risk.

Liz Talley is a lifelong resident of Seattle and a concerned citizen.

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