Coal

Transport of Hazardous Materials by Rail

Lake Pend Oreille | Pend Oreille River

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.

Impact of coal transport by rail

Water Quality

Health and Safety

  • Increased noise and air pollution.
  • Increased emergency response times at crossings without overpasses or underpasses.

Transportation

  • Increased traffic delays at crossings without overpasses or underpasses.

Economic

  • Decreased property values and harm to local businesses.

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. 

Does coal really fall out of uncovered coal cars into Lake Pend Oreille?  Yes

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.

Millenium Bulk Terminals

Longview, Washington

If built, this terminal could export up to 48.5 million tons of coal each year.

This terminal would result in 126 loaded coal trains per week transported along the banks and over Lake Pend Oreille.

Millenium was denied key permits from the Washington State Department of Ecology, Cowlitz County and the Washington Department of Natural Resources for the proposed terminal.

Millenium has appealed these decisions.

Gateway Pacific Terminal

Cherry point, Washington

If built, this terminal could export up to 59.5 million tons of bulk commodities each year, predominantly coal.

This terminal would result in 112 loaded coal trains per week transported along the banks and over Lake Pend Oreille.

The United States Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) denied federal permits for the terminal based on negative impacts to treaty rights of the Lummi Nation.

The permit application was withdrawn by SSA Marine in February, 2017.

Morrow Pacific

Port of Morrow, Boardman, OR

If built, this terminal could export up to 8.8 million tons of coal each year.

This terminal would result in 25 loaded coal trains per week transported along the banks and over Lake Pend Oreille.

A key permit to build a dock on the Columbia River was denied by the Oregon Department of State Lands in 2014.

The decision was appealed, but Amber Energy withdrew its appeal in 2016.

 

Resources

Power Past Coal
An alliance of health, environmental, businesses, clean-energy, faith and community groups working to stop coal export off the West Coast. Includes a fantastic library of PDFs and potential impacts! This website is a one-stop-shop for coal export resources.

Water Quality Impacts
This fact sheet details the potential impacts of increased rail traffic on regional water quality.

Dust Up
What an internal industry dispute says about coal dust risk.

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