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February 20, 2013

Enormous Grassroots Response to Coal Export Plan in Washington

WA Beyond Coal 1

How many messages do you need to leave before they get the hint?

One can only wonder what Big Coal is thinking after more than 124,000 comments poured onto the desks of decision-makers who will be overseeing an environmental impact statement concerning a massive coal exporting scheme that would alter Washington state's coastline and send countless coal trains through people's neighborhoods.

The issue surrounds Cherry Point, where SSA Marine wants to build an export terminal that would connect the coal mines of Powder River Basin with energy-hungry East Asia.

Mayor Coal Train 01

It's one part of a larger plan to open up the coastline to coal exports and completely reverse any progress on the climate crisis. It would send millions of tons of coal each year through Washington communities and farmland, clogging up rail lines and roads and leaving coal dust behind.

The overwhelming response has caught the attention of the three agencies in charge of deciding the plan's fate: the Army Corps, the state Department of Ecology, and Whatcom County.

"We're looking at an unprecedented number of comments," said Washington Department of Ecology spokesman Larry Altose in the Bellingham Herald

The sheer number of comments means it will take months to go through all of them.

"Everyday this plan is delayed it proves that this is a much bigger issue than what the coal industry tried to make it out to be," said Robin Everett, Associate Regional Representative of Sierra Club's Beyond Coal Campaign. "There are huge consequences that the public takes issue with and the state is going to take the time to evaluate this in the right way."

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Meanwhile, some from Big Coal's corner have figured that the hassle of fighting entire communities is not worth it. In August, RailAmerica gave up on its plans that would have sent five tons of coal each year through Grays Harbor.  

Another coal export proposal on the table awaits in Longview, a few hundred miles south of Cherry Point on the Oregon border. Community members and clean-air advocates are poised to take this on as well later this year.

"This movement against the Cherry Point proposal has set up a great precedent for the next fight," Everett said.

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