This is not a modern-day version of the Silk Road. It's an insidious and toxic connection between the coal fields of the Powder River Basin and the energy-starved markets of India and Southeast Asia. And Big Coal is pushing to expand it by mind-boggling proportions.
Their plan is to increase their exporting operations by a whopping 48 million tons of coal every year, and their target is the bay side city of Bellingham, Washington, where they hope to obtain approval of a $600-million terminal that will in all likelihood clog this area's railways and docks. But before the trains start whistling and the ships start sailing, they'll have to answer to the locals who want none of that.
Earlier this month, more than 300 people showed up to the "Coal Hard Truth" forum in Mt. Vernon, Washington to hear more about what it would mean if countless tons of coal barreled through their communities with a one-way ticket to Asia. The event was organized by the Sierra Club, Transition Fidalgo, and ReSources, and supported by more than a dozen other environmental organizations.
With increasing resistance to new coal plants here at home, the exporting of U.S. coal is becoming more appealing to money-hungry companies, like Peabody Coal. Asia already burns 140 million metric tons of coal from the Powder River Basin every year. Proposals to expand in Tacoma, Grays Harbor, and Kalama have already failed because of local opposition.
"I am continually amazed at the level of community engagement on this issue," says Robin Everett, Associate Regional Representative of Sierra Club's Beyond Coal Campaign, which has been partnering with local action groups and health groups. Plans for the terminal are still in its early stages, but it isn't too early to mobilize community members and prepare them for what will probably become a formidable clash with the industry in the coming months.