Coal by Rail
Asia accounts for about 80% of the world's coal usage and American coal companies want to export as much of their product as possible.
About 5 uncovered coal trains travel along the shores and over Lake Pend Oreille every day, carrying coal mined in the Powder River Basin of Montana and Wyoming. These trains are destined for Canada where the coal is transferred to barges at a shipping terminal and sent across the Pacific Ocean to Asian markets.
Proposals to create new coal export terminals in Washington and Oregon began popping up in 2012. If these terminals were permitted, coal train transport through North Idaho, and Sandpoint in particular, would have skyrocketed.
To date, not one coal export proposal has been successful. Some companies pulled their plans, while others had key permits denied thanks to the combined voices and advocacy of concerned citizens up and down the rail lines from Montana to Washington.
Example Projects and Outcomes:
Millenium Bulk Terminals - Longview, WA
Coal in Lake Pend Oreille:
Does coal really fall out of uncovered coal cars into Lake Pend Oreille?
In 2014, LPOW staff and volunteers surveyed areas surrounding train trestles that cross over Lake Pend Oreille when the lake level was drawn down. Potential coal was collected from below the ordinary high water mark from the Pack River trestle, Morton Slough and Dog Beach. The most coal was recovered from the Dog Beach area just north of the Long Bridge.
Coal samples were sent to ALS Environmental for analysis. Laboratory analyses revealed that the most of the samples that were collected were indeed consistent with sub-bituminous coal that is found in the Powder River Basin of Montana and Wyoming.
While BNSF employed a coal loading rule in 2011 aimed at reducing the loss of coal dust loss by 85%, which includes the use of surfactants to stabilize the surface of coal piles in cars, there is no clear evidence that coal shippers are complying with the rule. Furthermore, this rule only addresses coal dust and not pieces of coal which we find in our lake.