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1,000+ Take Action Against Coal Exports in the Pacific Northwest

by Brian Manning

May 31, 2016

Pacific Northwest communities have already stopped five of six proposed coal export terminals in Washington and Oregon from being built — last week they showed up stop number six.

Situated near the mouth of the Columbia River, Longview, Washington has long been a destination for local and international businesses, fishermen, and tourists. Last week, Longview was also a key battleground in the growing movement to keep fossil fuels in the ground and out of our communities.

On Tuesday, May 24, hundreds of people continually packed a public hearing for more than eight hours in opposition to the proposed Millennium Bulk Terminal — which would ship up to 44 million tons of coal per year out of Longview.

Proposed Coal Terminal Hearing

A sea of activists in red unite against coal exports at a hearing in Longview, Washington.

To tell this story the right way, it’s worth going back to 2012, when the Pacific Northwest became the target of nearly a dozen various fossil fuel projects and proposals, including six coal export terminals. Combined, coal companies hoped to ship upwards of 136 million tons of coal annually through Oregon and Washington. It felt like we were hearing about a new proposal almost every other day!

Three years ago, we teamed up with “Arrested Development’s” Alia Shawkat on a video explaining exactly what’s wrong with these coal export projects.

We know that a massive coal terminal would mean up to 16 daily, mile-long, uncovered coal trains spewing arsenic-laden coal dust near neighborhoods where families and their kids play. It would mean an increased risk of asthma and other chronic diseases for thousands of people.

We also know that, if we are going to avoid the worst impacts of climate change, we must keep fossil fuels, especially coal, in the ground. By stopping these ports from being built, we are not only protecting our families and communities from toxic coal dust, but keeping the Pacific Northwest from becoming a carbon corridor.

Clean Air Not Coal Dust

People rally before heading to canvass their neighbors about the proposed Millennium Bulk coal terminal. Photo by Ella Mahoney.

The fight to stop these coal projects hasn’t been easy.

Coal companies like Peabody, Arch, Lighthouse Resources, and Cloud Peak spent millions hustling these projects in Oregon and Washington, but the people have pushed back in big ways. We’ve rallied at company headquarters, filled county meeting halls to speak directly to decision-makers, and put our bodies on the line in kayaks and on land.

The people of the Pacific Northwest have stood up to fossil fuel companies everywhere their projects are proposed — and we’re winning.  In a victory for indigenous rights, the Army Corp honored the Lummi Nation’s treaty by denying a critical permit for the proposed Gateway Pacific coal export terminal — another example of Sovereign Nations leading the way to keep coal in the ground.

Of the six original proposals, five have been terminated, abandoned, or denied. Only one remains: the Millennium Bulk Terminal.

The proposed Millennium Bulk Terminal site is right on the Columbia River. The Highlands Neighborhood, right next to the site, has seen first-hand the impacts of decades of pollution from industrial activity. These residents — already faced with a higher risk of developing chronic respiratory and cardiovascular diseases — would be exposed to even more toxins if this terminal gets built.

So, in response to the threat of a coal terminal, the people of Longview have come together in churches and schools, organizing community meetings to discuss health risks and having conversations with their neighbors, and with other folks that would be impacted along route. They’ve spent hours calling their fellow supporters, walked their neighborhoods to inform each other, and are rallying for a healthy environment free from coal.

Proposed Coal Terminal Hearing

Tribal members from Nations along the Columbia River spoke forcefully against the coal terminal during public testimony.

Which brings me back to last Tuesday, where more than 1,000 people turned out to a hearing to raise their voice once again against this dangerous, dirty project. It was the culmination of so many years of hard work, working closely with communities most directly impacted, and with powerful grassroots coalition partners. It was inspiring to witness the power of people standing up for a future free of coal, like one big family demanding our government keep fossil fuels in the ground.

While I am proud and inspired by our collective accomplishments, the fight isn’t over — both to keep fossil fuels permanently in the ground and stop the Millennium Bulk Terminal. We will keep pressuring our elected officials to put an end to this and all fossil fuel projects that threaten our community, our health, and our climate.

And together, we will win.

Stand in solidarity with the communities of the Pacific Northwest: say no to the Millennium Bulk Terminal and yes to keeping ALL fossil fuels in the ground! Click here to take action.

By Brian Manning

Brian Manning is a field organizer in the Pacific Northwest with Greenpeace USA.

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