More to coal trains than just noise

According to Mr. Welsh, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has determined that increased train traffic causes “significant impacts to public health.”
By Barbara Tipton | Jun 13, 2012


Several weeks ago, Eric Livingston suggested that Edmonds should enact a “Quiet Zone” to prohibit trains from sounding their horns when approaching a railroad crossing.

The idea to implement a “Quiet Zone” is worthy of study, however it does not acknowledge the grave consequences wrought by the coal trains.

Last month, “Seattle Times” environmental reporter Craig Welsh wrote a comprehensive article detailing the passage of coal from the mines to various terminals in Washington via train and to the final customers in Asia.

According to Mr. Welsh, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has determined that increased train traffic causes “significant impacts to public health.”

That determination requires the preparation of an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS).

The Army Corps of Engineers is the lead agency tasked to write the EIS.

The Times’ article states that the Corps is now deciding whether to evaluate each construction project on its own or to analyze the coal exporting system as a whole.

And that’s when I nearly spilled my coffee. I realized that the Corps was about to embark on the scoping review phase of the EIS process.

Being somewhat familiar with the State Environmental Protection Act (SEPA), I reviewed the sections that relate to the scoping review phase.

WAC 197-11-444 details the topics and sub-topics (“elements of the environment”) that must be addressed in the EIS. These include the natural environment (i.e. air quality, climate, non-renewable resources, potential releases to the environment affecting public health) and the built environment (i.e. . movement of people or goods, traffic hazards, emergency services, land use, shorelines, noise – the subject of Mr. Livingston’s essay).

WAC 197-11-060 closes a potential loophole by preventing the EIS’ author from preparing a series of separate documents each evaluating a distinct “element of the environment.”

What it also precludes is the ability of breaking down a large plan into smaller independent projects in order to minimize the overall effect of the project as a whole.

WAC 197-11-060 cautions EIS authors that it is not legal to publish a series of EIS documents if the motivation stems from a desire to “divide a larger system into exempted fragments or avoid discussion of cumulative impacts.”

And that is why the scoping review phase is critical.

Does the Corps of Engineers evaluate the entire coal conveyance system as a whole? Or, does the Corps of Engineers break it down and write site and / or element specific EIS documents?

The communities along the rail lines and Bellingham – future site of the Cherry Point terminal will all experience the fallout.

And there are other cities, including as Hoquiam and Longview, targeted as potential sites for terminals. We are facing this together, not as separate communities.

And it spreads even further. Council President Strom Peterson and Edmonds citizens writing letters to the editor have noted that we are enabling Asian countries by exporting coal.

Our country is reducing coal consumption in an effort to decrease carbon dioxide emissions. Yet we plan on sending our coal across the Pacific Ocean to be burned in Asia.

Do pollution and green house gasses have boundaries? The answer is self-evident, but we have to rely on those who interpret our state’s Environmental Protection Act.

The legislation was enacted in 1971 well before the expansion of world trade and the scientific community’s affirmation of global warming.

Hopefully, those in power believe that interpretation should take into consideration current cultural and scientific conditions.

The planet’s future hangs in the balance.


Barbara Tipton

Comments (1)
Posted by: Eric B. Livingston | Jun 15, 2012 15:56

Just for the record, here are a few paragraphs that were in earlier drafts but were deleted due to excessive length of the article:

I’ve done some research regarding those issues and I found that 40 years of medical research, environmental research and related studies support the claims of those who write to say the these Coal Trains will cause problems.

I can also provide anecdotal evidence of those claims.  In my youth I was a deckhand on the ore boats, (similar to the Edmonds Fitzgerald) steaming up and down the Great Lakes, occasionally hauling coal to various steel mills.  I know, first hand, that coal is nasty, dirty, lung damaging and very dangerous stuff.  We weren’t allowed to smoke during on and off loading as we could ignite the dust and blow ourselves up. (I’ve since quit.)

My position is that I am against the Coal Trains passing through Edmonds.

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