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Scrapbook: Going Door-to-Door in Spokane to Spread the Word About Coal Exports

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September 05, 2012

Going Door-to-Door in Spokane to Spread the Word About Coal Exports

The last Saturday in August, members of the Sierra Club's Coal-Free Spokane team went door-to-door in Chief Garry, a lower-income neighborhood in east Spokane whose south border is the rail line, to talk to locals about the dangers of coal exports. That's local Sierra Club volunteer Doug Leonetti, below at left, with Spokane-based Sierra Club organizer Crystal Gartner.

Leonetti-&-Gartner

The Club's Coal-Free Washington campaign has held a series of public forums around the state to educate the public about the coal industry's plans to build new coal export terminals on the Washington coast that would ship Wyoming and Montana coal across the Pacific to Asia. The coal would be shipped to the new export terminals in open railroad cars through places like Spokane, posing a health hazard to residents along the route.

"Chief Garry would get hit with the diesel exhaust, coal dust, noise, and delays of around 60 new coal trains daily if coal export terminals were to be built," Gartner says. "Yet no one we spoke to had heard about the issue or the threats facing our community."

Below, Leonetti talks with local residents at the Millwood Farmer's Market, near one of the rail lines that would haul coal through Spokane.

Doug-Leonetti

"Many of the people we met had kids at home," Gartner says, "and most everyone we spoke to had similar reactions: 'I don't want to be breathing all that coal dust!' 'I'm very concerned about my kids.' 'I will definitely be at that hearing—please let me know when it is.'"

Below, a resident of Chief Garry holds a Sierra Club Coal-Free Northwest brochure. "He told us he used to clean up train derailments," Gartner says.

Chief-Garry-resident

"In just a couple of hours of knocking on doors and handing out literature, we reached dozens of grateful families," Gartner says. "Residents of neighborhoods like Chief Garry are often among the least informed about the dangers associated with exporting coal, even though they're the most vulnerable to those impacts. Now, after we took the time to go door-to-door and take the message to them directly, they're fired up!"

Spokane-Beyond-Coal-team

Earlier in August, the Spokane Beyond Coal team conducted a "Walk the Line" outing in High Bridge Park, on the banks of the Spokane River in downtown Spokane. Longtime Sierra Club volunteer leader Dr. John Osborn—whose wife Rachel, a public interest lawyer, is a Sierra Club leader on water and river issues—gave a talk about the history and power of the railroads. The Osborns recently spearheaded a successful campaign to restore year-round flows in the river.

Below, Spokane Falls before and after year-round flows were restored.

Spokane-Falls

Beyond Coal volunteers then led a 1.5-mile walk around Latah Creek in the Latah Valley neighborhood just west of downtown, passing underneath one railroad bridge and gaining a view of another rail line that runs near local hiking trails and just below a number of apartment buildings. "We saw several trains pass by, none carrying coal, but the noise and diesel were evident," Gartner says. "Folks asked me good questions and were enthusiastic about volunteering."

Similar efforts to educate the public and galvanize opposition to the proposed coal export terminals are underway in Oregon. At latest count, ten cities in the Pacific Northwest, including Seattle, have passed resolutions opposing the development of the new terminals. Below, a coal export forum held in Spokane last October.

Spokane-coal-export-forum

Learn more about the dangers of exporting coal, and how you can get involved with the Sierra Club's Coal-Free WashingtonOregon Beyond Coal, and national Beyond Coal campaigns.

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