Seattle Passes Resolution Opposing Northwest Coal Export Terminals
On May 29, the Seattle City Council unanimously passed a resolution opposing the development of new coal export terminals in Washington State, becoming the tenth municipality in the Pacific Northwest to do so. Above, activists rally at Seattle City Hall prior to the council's vote.
The federal government is now reviewing the first of at least half a dozen coal export facilities proposed in Washington and Oregon to ship coal from the Powder River basin of Montana and Wyoming to Asia. If all the facilities are built, more than 100 million tons of coal a year could be carried in trains through the Northwest before being shipped across the Pacific.
Some 100 citizen activists at City Hall were addressed by Andy Lewis, chair of the Sierra Club's Washington State Chapter. Carla Payne, founding director of Earth Ministry, Dr. Rich Grady, president of Washington Physicians for Social Responsibility, and James Daily, chief technology officer of MicroEnergy Credits, also spoke. The ralliers then marched upstairs and jammed into the City Council chambers, below.
"Speaker after speaker raised all the reasons to oppose the coal export terminals," says Seattle-based Sierra Club organizer Kathleen Ridihalgh. "Coal dust, asthma, climate change, mercury and particulate matter pollution, harm to real estate values, traffic congestion, harm to salmon and herring, dirty water, harm to small businesses, blocking ferries, harm to kids—it's just the wrong thing to do."
Below, two moms and their young kids at Seattle City Hall.
"Only three people testified against the resolution: the coal and railroad reps," Ridihalgh adds.
Mike O'Brien, at left, formerly chair of the Washington State Sierra Club and now chair of the Seattle City Council's Energy and Environment Committee, said mining and burning more coal is inconsistent with the city's effort to fight climate change.
"We have serious concerns about the health and traffic impacts of a nine-fold increase in uncovered coal trains through Seattle, especially for people who live near the rail line," he said. "We are very concerned about increased exposure to harmful coal dust from the tops of uncovered coal trains, and an increase in coal-train traffic through Seattle could adversely affect traffic and freight mobility."
The Sierra Club has been working for over a year to educate the public about the environmental and health threats of coal, and to mobilize citizen opposition to the proposed coal export facilities.
"Robin Everett in Seattle, Laura Stevens in Portland, Crystal Gartner in Spokane, and our fabulous teams of volunteers have led the charge with our Power Past Coal coalition," says Ridihalgh. "From Seattle to Spokane, Portland to Bellingham, and all through the Columbia River Gorge, they've been sounding the alarm in communities along the train routes."
Everett lauds Ridihalgh for leading the charge to engage elected leaders. "Kathleen has been the guiding force behind our organized outreach to secure resolutions and public statements from cities across Washington and Oregon," she says.
With its resolution, Seattle joins a rising chorus of cities and counties across the Northwest in officially opposing the proposed coal export terminals, including Edmonds, Bainbridge Island, Marysville, Camas, Washougal, and Stevenson, all in Washington, and Hood River, Ore., Sand Point, Id., and Missoula, Mt.
"Robin was the primary organizer of the Seattle resolution work, coordinating with the public officials, organizing phonebanks, coordinating the coalition outreach, and working with our fantastic volunteers," Ridihalgh says. "In southwest Washington, Laura did an amazing job of reaching business and political conservatives in rural areas, and in Spokane, Crystal continues to reach a wide range of community leaders in the town that would become the 'sacrifice zone' of coal export trains."
Volunteers who helped and spoke out before the Seattle City Council include chapter chair Andy Lewis, Washington Beyond Coal committee chair Andrew Rose, and Millie Magner, Becky Castilleja, Leah Valleroy, Art Kaufman, Carl Chew, and Connie Voget. Ridihalgh also gives a shout-out to Portland-based Oregon Beyond Coal campaign director Cesia Kearns.
"We continue to press for more engagement from local officials," Ridihalgh says. "As communities become aware of the direct, dangerous, and dirty impacts of coal, they are rising up!"