December 24 2012

How Future Coal Freighting May Affect Eastern Washington

coaltrainspokane1In Spokane, WA, the hot button topic of the moment is something that affects everywhere from rural Wyoming and Montana, to the US/Canadian border city of Bellingham, WA,, to China: coal shipment. Essentially, the region is at least 3-5 years away from having a final environmental impact statement, let alone the approval for the port proposed at Cherry Point Aquatic Reserve near Bellingham, WA. But, that doesn’t put locals’ minds at ease.

A June 19th, 2012 meeting unanimously approved to further study the impacts coal shipments through the greater Spokane area. The focus of the study could be the environment, emergency response times, aesthetics, air quality affects, and more, due to dusty uncovered coal cars. At the time of the decision, the scope was undetermined. This lead to many scoping meetings throughout the region, including the one discussed below.

An initial health risks study of the rail yard, with the additional coal trains added, was commissioned by the Spokane Regional Clear Air Agency in early 2010. It acknowledged the increased risk of cancer to residents as far as 5 to 6 miles away, depending on wind patterns. As sprawled out as Spokane is, this radius would affect thousands, mostly low-income and collegiate, residents due to the placement of the rail yard. Please click here to read the study in its entirety.

This month, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Washington State Department of Ecology, and the Whatcom County Council jointly held the 5th of 7 total meetings on the subject at Spokane County Fair and Expo Center at 4pm December 4th, 2012 (is all this information necessary?), to figure out what scope the study would adopt. Almost a thousand people attended. Seattle held a similar meeting December 14th, 2012, which saw over 2,000 attendees.


BNSF Railway, just one of the potential coal shippers through Eastern Washington, estimated there would be 16 to 18 coal trains going through the area per day. However, The Western Organization of Resource Council estimated earlier this year that 28 coal trains alone per day would travel through the area by 2017 with up to 68 trains per day in the future, depending on future port developments on the west coast.

The scoping period of the study process ends January 21st, 2013. If you’d like your voice heard on this subject, please take action online (petitions here for: pro-coal and anti-coal), write a local council member if you’re a Northwesterner, or attend a meeting in your area and speak up!

What do you want to see in the Pacific Northwest’s energy exportation (or lack thereof) future?

Credits: Images and data linked to sources.

Aascot Holt

Aascot Holt is an undergraduate at Eastern Washington University, pursuing a major in Urban and Regional Planning and a minor in Geography. She will graduate in the spring of 2013. She is from Stevenson, WA and currently lives in Spokane, WA in a brick 1936 kit house. She is most intrigued by small-city and small town planning, parks and recreation planning, long-range planning, and historic preservation. She hopes to continue her habit of being involved with many planning projects at a time, and fears being pigeonholed. Aascot maintains the “Being A Planning Student” Tumblr as well as her planning-centric blog, The Comprehensive. She is currently writing Cheney, WA’s entirely new comprehensive parks, recreation, and trails plan, completely pro bono. More can be learned about her endeavors via LinkedIn.

This entry was posted on Monday, December 24th, 2012 at 7:43 pm and is filed under Community/Economic Development, Energy, Environment, Government/Politics, Infrastructure, Social/Demographics, Transportation. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.


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