King Coal Beware – Citizens, government leaders step up to fight coal exports in Oregon

by Guest Blogger

May 7, 2012

Quit Coal in OregonAuthored by Greenpeace Field Organizer, Bethany Cotton

Today, 600 people rallied in Portland, Oregon against new proposals to export coal through the Pacific Northwest to date, the largest demonstration in the state on this issue.

Robert Kennedy Jr., Hao Xin, Executive Director of Qiantang River Waterkeeper, Paul Lumley, Executive Director of Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission, and others gave rousing speeches, flanked by signs and banners reading “Export Clean Air,” “Fuel of the Dinosaurs,” and “Oregonians Say No to Coal Exports. Speakers drew attention to the myriad health, environmental, and climate impacts associated with exporting coal and burning coal. Following the rally, many from the diverse and enthusiastic crowd marched through downtown Portland to the Riverfront and across the Steel Bridge – one of two rail bridges that could carry coal trains through the city.

Todays event comes on the heels of a weekend of bold action. Hundreds rallied against coal exports in Bellingham, WA and a team of activists blocked coal trains headed for an export terminal in British Columbia near the US/Canadian border.

Across the Pacific Northwest and Interior West, people are taking action to protect their communities from aggressive efforts by the coal industry to strip mine in the wilderness of Wyoming and Montana, pollute the pristine Columbia River Gorge with coal dust, and ship millions of tons of coal to power plants in Asia.

And they are not alone. Elected officials and businesses are stepping up to engage in the fight. Recently, Oregon Governor Kitzhaber sent a letter to the Army Corps of Engineers, Dept of the Interior, and Bureau of Land Management calling for a thorough assessment of the local and global risks of exporting coal through the Pacific NW. He questioned how these proposals fit with our plans to move toward a low-carbon future.

As the Oregonian wrote in a recent editorial, It was only a matter of time before a local leader willing to look at the big picture on coal exports stood up and said, in so many words: Wait a minute, are we sure about this?

Kitzhabers letter follows similar efforts by USEPA and resolutions from communities such as Hood River to prevent coal trains from coming through their town. Thousands of Oregonians have submitted public comments to the State Lands Board and Army Corps of Engineers in opposition to Ambres request to build a coal terminal at the Port of Morrow.

Even Portland General Electric, operator of Oregons only coal plant, took action to block Kinder Morgans proposed coal terminal site at the Port of St Helens, citing concerns about the impact of coal dust and increased train traffic on their nearby natural gas plant. If coal dust is too dangerous for a power plant, its surely an unacceptable risk to families throughout the Pacific Northwest.

The executives at Ambre and Kinder Morgan cannot be happy right now. This January, they attempted to force through proposals at the Port of St Helens, securing a green light from port commissioners behind closed doors. They thought that government would continue to side with industry over the well-being of the people of the Northwest. Theyve told investors and journalists that they remain confident in their ability to obtain permits, that this rising tide of legal, regulatory, and citizen action is nothing more than a setback.

On days like today, I wonder if they realize what a difficult fight they have ahead.

Greenpeace is calling on Governor Kitzhaber to stand up to Ambre and Kinder Morgan, and protect Oregon families by doing everything in his power to stop coal exports. He can start by denying the permit at the Port of Morrow.

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