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Originally published Thursday, June 20, 2013 at 4:27 PM

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Army Corps of Engineers must broaden review of coal-train impacts

The Army Corps of Engineers must use its expertise to weigh the regional impacts of proposed coal-export facilities. The concerns are universal.

Times editorial columnist

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The growing revelation about plans to sell hundreds of millions of tons of coal to Asia is that so many people are put off by the idea. Here and elsewhere.

The human consequences range from health and safety issues close to home to global warming and climate change. These topics resonate across continents and oceans.

The prospect of expanding existing ports and building new marine facilities to receive endless streams of dust-spewing rail cars full of coal, with all their related impacts on air quality, health and traffic, dismays people from Oregon to Australia.

Yes, those folks down under, who are seen as relentless accommodators of China’s coal demand, are upset about the local effects of moving Aussie coal through their ports.

Those are the same concerns shared by Spokane and Washougal about rail traffic for shipping Powder River Basin coal from Wyoming and Montana.

Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn and K.C. Golden, policy director for Climate Solutions, testified Tuesday at a congressional hearing before the House Subcommittee on Energy and Power.

McGinn spoke on behalf of the Leadership Alliance Against Coal, and its 40 members from cities and counties in Washington and Oregon. McGinn and Golden made it clear the coal dust, diesel exhaust and traffic disruptions were impediments to regional economic changes grounded in clean energy and environmental values and investments.

For background information, check out an excellent KCTS 9 and EarthFix original documentary, “COAL,” which aired Wednesday night.

Look for it online or at a June 26 forum at Town Hall Seattle.

The prospects of massive, constant rail shipments raise economic, safety and health concerns from the coalfields through Eastern Washington, along the Columbia River and into Puget Sound.

This past year, thousands of people turned out for regional hearings and tens of thousands submitted comments to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers seeking the broadest assessment of the hazards.

It was disappointing and puzzling when Jennifer A. Moyer, the Corps’ acting chief of regulatory programs, told the congressional panel Tuesday the federal environmental reviews would be limited. “They are independent projects in different locations, whose impacts are not related.”

Right, no gritty synergy to impeding commerce, delaying emergency vehicles and fouling the environment.

This whole coal scheme would put a smile on robber baron John D. Rockefeller’s face.

For one thing, a study found the U.S. Treasury has been cheated out of approximately $28.9 billion. The revenue was lost by a sloppy, benevolent federal coal-leasing program throughout the past 30 years.

A Massachusetts think-tank, the Cambridge-based Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis, found a cloistered, mostly secretive process that sold coal off federal land at below-market-value prices.

Now the push is on for port expansions to ship artificially cheap coal. One of the threats used against Northwest opponents of coal-export facilities is that jobs will go to Canada.

Turns out British Columbia is not too keen on the jobs U.S. cities are spurning. Last week, the Metro Vancouver regional board voted against a new coal-export terminal in Surrey.

The final decision will be made by Port Metro Vancouver’s board, but the association of two dozen municipalities and councils was strongly against it. So are local citizens.

Kevin Washbrook, director of Voters Taking Action on Climate Change, explained Wednesday that local plans also call for doubling the size of an existing terminal in North Vancouver.

Meanwhile, authorities in Brisbane, Australia, are looking into health hazards from coal dust from “open coal wagons” and coal piled at ports. One rail coal route in question passes through 30 suburban communities.

China’s love affair with coal is waning. The Chinese are worried about particulate matter — PM2.5 to be precise, a fine dust whose size allows it to burrow deep into the lungs.

All this hardly justifies expanded port facilities with limited uses, to ship a low-grade product that relies on suspect federal pricing and results in saturating the planet in carbon dioxide.

The Army Corps of Engineers must provide a rigorous, comprehensive look at how coal trains and coals ports will impact the Northwest.

Lance Dickie's column appears regularly on editorial pages of The Times. His email address is

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