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March 21, 2013

Massive Grassroots Oregon Turnout Delivers Another Big Coal Setback

Salem_rally

Oregon is known for its natural beauty. Oregonians want to keep it that way.

Last week, after 450 people gathered at the Oregon state capitol to protest the prospect of countless tons of coal being shipped by train through their communities, the state Department of State Lands announced a five-month delay in deciding on a dredging project to construct a coal export terminal that would send nearly 9 millions of tons of coal each year from Montana, through eastern Oregon, and along the Columbia River for export.

Salem_rally_faithThe rally, which filled the front steps of the capitol building, was impossible for state decision-makers to ignore. Emceed by Mayor Jeremy Ferguson, the gathering featured speakers ranging from anglers to students to faith leaders to clean-energy business entrepreneurs.

Medical professionals in attendance wore white coats and scrubs. Health experts say emissions from transporting so much coal could sicken as many as 82,000 people who live within 500 meters of the tracks that would be used

"We had 110 people holding signs to symbolize 110 cars in a typical train and 48 barges to symbolize the number of coal barges that would travel down the Columbia River every week," said Sierra Club Organizer Laura Stevens.

The day after the rally, Ambre, the energy company behind the proposal, agreed with the state government to table the decision from April 1 to September 1, admitting that the state was "inclined to deny our permit." It's the second delay since the permit was first submitted over a year ago.

Oregon"Ambre initially balked at having to provide an impacts review, but when the state stood its ground, Ambre came crawling back with a request for a deadline extension," Stevens said.

The huge turnout came with the help of the Power Past Coal coalition, which includes Friends of the Gorge, Columbia Riverkeeper, Physicians for Social Responsibility, National Wildlife Federation, Climate Solutions, and Greenpeace. It's part of a massive grassroots movement across the entire Pacific Northwest region against Big Coal's aggressive scheme to send tens of millions of tons of coal by rail through communities to ships bound for East Asia. Before the postponement, the Ambre decision would've been the first for a coal export proposal in the Pacific Northwest. But like other Big Coal proposals in the area, it has not been able to outlast the enormous response from families and communities.

"Volunteers and leaders from the SW Washington Beyond Coal Task Force, Portland Beyond Coal Task Force, and Salem Beyond Coal Task Force worked hours on the phone recruiting attendees, recruiting speakers, and making the fun, interactive signs," Stevens said.

"No matter how hard Big Coal pushes, they will find that the people care more about the health of their families and economy than the profits of dirty energy," she added. 

(Photos: Greg Sotir)

-- Brian Foley

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