Businesses Speak Out Against Dirty Coal Export

Are coal-carrying trains a sign of progress?

Premium content from Puget Sound Business Journal by Kurt Waldenberg and Mike Smith

Date: Friday, December 16, 2011, 3:00am PST

Washington has a long and proud history of economic innovation. Our state is known for technological advances that change the world. As members of Washington’s business community, we know how valuable are our region’s high quality of life, healthy business environment and stellar reputation as a technology driver to growing existing businesses and attracting new businesses to the region. And as residents of Bellingham and Longview we are particularly focused on growing sustainable jobs in our communities.

That’s why we are so concerned about proposals for massive coal export facilities in Whatcom and Cowlitz counties.

Strong local economies depend on the health of small businesses and the ability to leverage the tremendous economic opportunities along the waterfront. Massive port facilities to export strip-mined coal and the associated economic and health impacts are the antithesis of a thriving local economy.

The incredible scale of the facility proposed for Cherry Point, near Bellingham, for example, would require 20 trains per day, each a mile and a half long and half of them fully loaded with coal, to pass through Puget Sound and Washington state communities on their way to port. That includes the Seattle, Tacoma and Everett waterfronts. The Longview proposal is potentially even larger — and the trains would share the same route from Spokane through the Columbia Gorge and Vancouver to the facility. Cumulatively, these proposals would involve more than 40 additional trains per day.

Not only would the five-to-eight-minute delay for each train affect our ability to get to our employees to work and our goods to market, it would split our business district and communities in half, disrupt product delivery, and impact customers’ ability to patronize storefronts, restaurants and places of business.

According to Burlington Northern Santa Fe, each train car can lose as much as 3 percent of its total load — 500 to 2,000 pounds of coal — in the form of dust and spillage en route from coal mine to port. This toxic dust would be found in nearby communities as well as rivers, streams and coastlines.

Several studies show greater risks for communities next to the most-active rail lines. Health dangers from diesel exhaust and coal dust range from exposure to toxic metals such as mercury and lead to increased asthma in children. These statistics aren’t likely to attract new businesses, investment or employees.

And what about property values? Real estate near rail lines and export facilities can expect dramatic losses due to aesthetic and health concerns associated with coal. Residents of Point Roberts, more than three miles from a major coal export facility in British Columbia, complain that the dust routinely blackens their homes, furniture, and boats. Coal spoils the aesthetic beauty of waterfront businesses and compromises future redevelopment projects. And who knows how long the big coal companies will choose to stick around? The boom-and-bust nature of the coal export business could see these huge companies pick up and move or shut down at any time, leaving local taxpayers to clean up the mess. Why should local businesses and families bear this heavy burden so big corporations can pad their bottom lines by exporting energy to fuel Asian factories?

We can do better — and we are. Throughout the state, businesses are working to promote sustainable development, encourage responsible stewardship of our land and water, and drive the clean economy.

Livable. Breathable. Clean. This is our vision beyond coal.

Washington remains at the forefront of innovation. We are pioneering a sustainable path to a more prosperous future. This long-term vision for a clean economy will be driven by innovative technological advances in sectors like efficiency, smart grid, and renewable energy. This is our vision beyond coal. The solutions we pioneer here are our exports of the future. Exporting dirty fossil fuels like coal anchors us to the past.

KURT WALDENBERG is owner of North Sound Energy & Remodel, of Bellingham. MIKE SMITH is a Realtor/broker with John L. Scott in Longview.