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September 26, 2013

Huge Turnout in Red Aims to Put the Brakes on Pacific Northwest Coal Export Scheme


Red means stop. No wonder so many of the 1,000 people who showed in opposition to a proposed coal export terminal wore red t-shirts to a public hearing.

The grassroots effort helped coal-export opponents outnumber pro-coal attendees 3-to-1 at the public hearing in Longview, Washington. The proposal that has awakened the entire Pacific Northwest is a massive coal export terminal that would send 44 million tons of coal on 16-mile-long trains through Longview every year en route to the coast, from where the coal would be shipped to East Asia. A massive export terminal would do little to benefit the local economy while leaving behind toxic coal dust. Endless coal trains would clog railways, hampering first responders and snarling traffic. 

Last week's hearing, which lasted six hours, was first in the latest round of hearings. The Sierra Club's Beyond Coal campaign has been organizing opposition to proposed coal export terminalss in the Pacific Northwest for the last two-plus years. Columbia Riverkeeper, Landowners and Citizens for a Safe Community, Friends of the Columbia Gorge, Climate Solutions, Earth Ministry, and Oregon Physicians for Social Responsibility all had a hand in ensuring a huge turnout.


At the Longview hearing, activists set up a "Coal is poison" sign on a 12-foot-tall inflatable globe outside the venue to greet attendees as they entered. Inside, speakers were selected through a random drawing. 

"Our testimony was solid," said Laura Stevens, an Oregon-based Beyond Coal organizer. Teachers, nurses, business leaders, city councilmembers, and a cattle rancher from Montana offered testimony opposing the plan. Campaign organizers "even got an Australian from Newcastle to testify via Skype about the risks of living near a coal terminal there."

"How much more does my neighborhood have to suffer?" asked Dawn Hansen, a nurse who lives about a mile from the proposed terminal site. "Justice, not expedience, needs to be the guiding light in this process."


Earlier this month, Native American community representatives expressed their opposition.

"We don't see anything good for us or for our future generations with the proposed coal terminals," said William Iyall, chairman of Longview-based Cowlitz Tribe, as reported by the local media

Outside the hearing, Dan Carpitha, whose mother's tribe, the Lemhi Shoshone, is the same as Sacajawea's, played a Native American prayer song on his flute.  Carpitha told The Columbian newspaper that he opposes the coal terminal and is concerned about generations to come. The promised coal jobs, he said, remind him of "a bartender who continues to serve an obviously intoxicated customer because he needs the money."


Congratulations to the fantastic organizers and activists who worked hard for such a huge turnout!

-- Brian Foley


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