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August 23, 2013

Grassroots Activists Mobilize Against Proposed Louisiana Coal Export Terminal

BelleChasseHearingGRN

Big Coal's "RAM" idea is being met with calls to "scram!"

The "RAM" coal export terminal being rammed through Louisiana's permitting process by coal companies has aroused the ire of communities that would rather keep the state's natural places from being trampled by dirty fuels. Nearly 200 people showed for two recent public hearings held by the state Department of Natural Resources, giving a huge boost to grassroots activists fighting to keep the process transparent.

"This terminal threatens more than our air," said Devin Martin, conservation coordinator with the Sierra Club's Delta Chapter. "It would be built adjacent to a site that the state has determined is the best possible location for a sediment and freshwater diversion project to help restore our eroding coast, the fastest disappearing landmass on the planet and the first and best protection from deadly storm surge from hurricanes."

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Initially, state officials had planned to hold one hearing in the rural town of Davant in the Mississippi River Delta, an out-of-the-way location that would have been a burden to reach for many opponents of the plan, especially people in the New Orleans area. After a public backlash, state officials agreed to add a second hearing in Belle Chasse, only 15 minutes from the proposed location of the export terminal and much closer to the metro area.

"The meeting extension was a huge win for public access and transparency on the permitting process, something that's not always a given here in Louisiana," Martin said.

The proposed site is in Plaquemines Parish, not far from two existing coal terminals that already inflict air pollution on nearby families. At the Davant hearing, 50 people spoke unanimously against the proposal -- only coal company consultants spoke in favor.

"After the hearing concluded, the public was invited downstairs to a cookout prepared by our local volunteers, who also distributed literature on the impacts of coal and coal trains along with lots of Beyond Coal swag," said Martin. "Even Mr. Gil Chatagnier, president of the firm representing RAM, ate a burger and asked for a Beyond Coal t-shirt!"

More than 120 people showed at the Belle Chasse hearing, which lasted nearly four hours. Environmental organizations were joined by social justice activists, and faith community leaders. Locals are dead set against the proposal that includes a coal export facility, railroad line, 15,000 square-foot maintenance shop, and a multistory office building that will only harm their communities. 

"I am definitely in opposition to this terminal," said Plaquemines Parish Councilman Burghart Turner. "It's not that I’m anti-business, but this is dirty business."

"The terminal will only add to respiratory problems we already have from a grain elevator and two oil refineries nearby," said fifth-generation Ironton resident Audrey Trufant Salvant. "We're concerned about a railroad we hear they want to run along the Mississippi and through the back of our town to carry coal. Trains could be running constantly. Right now the rail ends at the CHS grain elevator north of us."

After the hearing, Martin said, "We'll be watching closely for the decision outcome, but today we celebrate the success of building a Beyond Coal movement."

-- Brian Foley

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