Visualize Edmonds – without coal trains, please

We have too much to lose to just let them roll over us.
By Strom Peterson, Edmonds City Council member | Mar 22, 2012

Here’s how Edmonds describes itself to visitors on our website:

“A walkable waterfront town and celebrated arts community.”

“…a strong sense of civic pride widely shared in the community. There are numerous well-kept residential neighborhoods, a viable economic base, and an active, involved citizenry.” “Picture perfect.”

But it’s a lot more than a pretty picture for tourists.

Our distinctive local character is what makes our economy work.

It’s what gives this place a strong community identity.

It’s who we are and why we’re so proud to be here.

Now imagine this: nine coal trains – each one a mile and a half long and so heavy that it requires four diesel locomotives – rumbling through town along the waterfront, carrying over 150,000 tons of toxic, dusty cargo every day.

Then imagine nine additional empty trains with coal dust residue coming back the other way.

That’s 18 more trains – over 25 miles of cars – through the heart of town, day in, day out. Coal companies would strip-mine the coal in Montana and Wyoming, ship it by rail down the Columbia River Gorge and up the Puget Sound waterfront, and load it onto ships near Bellingham, bound for Asia.

That’s the plan.  Its backers include some of the world’s most powerful corporate titans: Big Coal, the railroad, and Goldman Sachs.

Ironically, they’ve cooked up this scheme in part because we are scrubbing the coal out of our energy mix.

Washington and Oregon plan to completely end the burning of coal for electricity in our states by 2025.

Edmonds is a pioneer “New Energy City,” with a plan to steadily reduce fossil fuel dependence using energy efficiency, solar power, and electric vehicles.

As America develops new, cleaner energy sources, Big Coal sees its future market in Asia.

The economics of coal export are sketchy at best.

It may go belly up, taking big public subsidies down the drain with it, like previous coal export investments in Portland and Los Angeles did.

But even if it flies, it’s a raw deal for Edmonds, for Washington, and for America.

The benefits include some short-term construction jobs at the dock and a small handful of permanent jobs loading coal.  In exchange for those benefits, none of which Edmonds would see, here’s what we’d pay:

 

  • Precious resources – transportation capacity, airsheds, shorelines – would be squandered on a high-impact, low-value industry that displaces cleaner, higher-value commerce.  Job losses throughout the economy would offset job gains at a few coal docks.

 

  • The Edmonds ferry terminal – a vital transportation artery -- would be frequently blocked by long, slow-moving trains.   Intersections would be snarled for hours each day, all along the rail route.  Emergency vehicles would have to wait.

 

  • Coal dust, diesel emissions, and pollution from trains and ships would foul our water and poison our lungs, increasing heart and respiratory diseases.

 

  • Pedestrian and vehicle access to our waterfront and senior center would be greatly compromised effecting not only our economy, but our basic safety.

 

  • Puget Sound would be clogged with gigantic “Cape-sized” ships (so named because they can’t fit through the Panama Canal) joining a growing fleet of tankers exporting heavy crude from Canada.

 

  • Feeding coal into rapidly growing Asian economies would guarantee global emission rates that accelerate dangerous climate change, with devastating local impacts on public health, water resources, oceans, and food production.

 

 

Less quantifiable, but just as important, would be the hit to our identity as a community.

Edmonds is living proof that quality of life and strong economies can go hand in hand. Our futures are brighter and our communities are stronger because we are building vibrant local economies – great places where people want to live, work, shop, and play.

Coal export is the direct opposite of that vision.

It would make our communities sacrifice zones for global coal trafficking that enriches a few while destroying our prospects for a healthy future.

That’s why the Edmonds City Council voted unanimously to oppose coal export.

Fighting the global coal giants from our little town might seem like an uphill battle, but we’re not alone.

Communities throughout the region are coming together to take a stand for a coal-free future.

We have too much to lose to just let them roll over us.

In the coming months, Washington officials will consider the impacts of the Cherry Point coal export proposal just north of Bellingham.

Now we need our state and federal leaders, including Public Lands Commissioner, Peter Goldmark, to stand up to the coal industry and do what’s right for the health and prosperity of our great communities by putting a stop to this project.

Much will be said in the coming months about the coal export scheme.

But at the end of the day, it’s really as simple as a picture – a snapshot as beautiful, vibrant, and promising as our community of Edmonds.

It’s no place for coal trains.

 

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