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December 13, 2012

Massive Crowds Turning Out to Oppose Coal Exports

Coal export hearing
"It's not our job in the Northwest to give mouth-to-mouth resuscitation to a dying fossil fuel industry."

That's what a former West Virginian, who now lives in Oregon, told federal officials this week at one of the many recent blockbuster public hearings on coal exports. Crowds have turned out by the thousands -- literally overflowing halls and waiting in line in the rain for hours, to speak in opposition to the coal industry's grand plans to export millions of tons of western US coal to Asia.
Coal export hearing3

I've been amazed, inspired, and fired up by the massive groundswell of opposition to coal exports in the Pacific Northwest, which has grown exponentially in the past few weeks as thousands of people turned out at public hearings. From Spokane to Bellingham, Washington, people are standing up for public health, clean air, and clean water as they say NO to the proposed coal export terminals.

As local residents gear up for a final hearing on Thursday over one of five coal export projects proposed in the Pacific Northwest, they are riding a wave of jaw-dropping turnout and opposition to these projects, which would send 150 million tons of coal to Asian markets. Thursday closes the last of seven public hearings throughout Washington State to define the scope of the Environmental Impact Statement for the Cherry Point coal export terminal proposal. This is first stage in a decision-making process regarding the proposal to export 48 million tons of coal per year through Cherry Point, Washington.


Let me be very clear -- typically, these types of hearings are a ho-hum affair that gets little notice, as they are one early step in the process of drafting an Environmental Impact Statement. But coal export opponents have blown the lid off every single one. Each of these hearings have seen crowds of 800, 1,000, or even 2,000 people overwhelmingly opposed to these coal export projects. It's just incredible -- take a look at some of these amazing photos and see for yourself.
Coal export hearing2

Business owners, mayors, doctors, scientists and moms, dads and grandparents are turning out in droves to speak to the issues of traffic, safety, and threats to local business, cultural heritage, and our climate and air quality. People have waited in line in the rain and cold for hours to get one of the limited 150 spots to testify before the agencies charged with decision-making.

The crowds supporting clean air and water are coming from across the political spectrum, too. For example, the small town of Mt Vernon, which has given the key to the city to Glenn Beck, showed that this is not a partisan issue when a huge crowd told officials that coal exports are not good for communities no matter where your political leanings lie.

"The scale of these projects, whether it's the construction of a massive coal export terminal or shipping trains full of toxic coal, is simply incompatible with the lifestyle and culture we have here in Washington," said Nicole Brown, a mother and organic farmer in Washington.

She continued, "The proposed coal export projects would threaten the natural resources, clean air, and clean water that have sustained our way of life for generations. Because of the transformative risk and impacts on our economy and culture, these projects deserve a thorough and comprehensive study."

In September, the Lummi Nation announced that they would not support the coal export proposal. In a bold statement, the tribal nation declared that they would not sacrifice their heritage and livelihood for dangerous and dirty coal exports, "not even for millions of dollars," and ceremoniously burned a check in opposition to these plans.

They were recently joined by other Indigenous communities in these sentiments when the Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians, representing 57 Northwest tribal communities, passed a resolution calling for a study of the cumulative impacts of all the proposed terminals.

Earlier this week, nearly 800 people gathered in Vancouver where once again, the coal companies were overwhelmingly outnumbered by local residents raising their voices against the harmful pollution. Carol Ross, the elderly woman quoted earlier in this post who moved to Oregon from West Virginia gave powerful testimony about the image she had of the Northwest, and her intent to move to Oregon to escape the destruction of the coal industry in Appalachia. 

"I can't believe we're even having this conversation," said Ross, who is a retired Portland grandmother and native Appalachian. "We moved to the beautiful Northwest to get away from the devastation the coal industry inflicts on anyone in its path. I would have never dreamed that this would be a place they'd follow us."

Ross says from her experience in West Virginia, there are few things worse than having Big Coal move into your neighborhood. "I was shocked to learn that this plan to use our pristine communities as a conduit to ship this toxic, outdated fossil fuel would be an idea folks would even consider," she said. "Yet here we are, fighting the coal industry as they work extra hard to sell us a deadly bag of goods."

Thursday in Seattle, we expect the crowds to continue to show up. Thousands of people will speak up on behalf of their families, communities, businesses, and futures to be protected from the dangers of coal exports. Seattle will feature another diverse group of speakers, including ranchers and Northern Cheyenne Tribal members from Eastern Montana whose livelihoods and families are threatened by coal mining in the Powder River Basin.

This has been a powerful process. Coal anywhere harms communities everywhere - from mine to rail, from port to plant, people from diverse backgrounds are refusing to let Big Coal railroad their dirty coal exports projects through our communities, no matter where we live. 

With five coal export terminal proposals on the table in the Northwest, we've demonstrated loud and clear that no matter where companies want to build a coal export terminal, they will have a large, long, and difficult battle before them - led by parents, fishermen, business leaders, local elected officials, Tribal leaders, recreationists, health professionals, and many others.

To voice your opposition to coal exports today, you can participate in our virtual town hall by texting the reason you oppose dirty coal exports to 69866 - or visit  http://sc.org/SeattleDec13 to see others' comments.

-- Mary Anne Hitt, Beyond Coal Director

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