6am PST Aug. 7th. The sun is just about to crest over the hills on the Washington side of the Columbia River – it’s a beautiful morning.
Yesterday we set off from Portland, Oregon to follow the rail lines to Helena, Montana. We are experiencing first hand the route that trains full of coal would travel were the coal industry to get its way and “railroad” through six proposals to export up to 157 million tons of U.S. coal to Asia every year.
Each of these trains would be nearly a mile and a half long, each so heavy it must be pulled by four diesel engines. It’s a fight we – those who love these wild places, those who live in communities on or near the rails, those who recreate or farm or raise their families here – and even more profoundly, all of us – every person everywhere who relies, consciously or not, on climate stability, cannot afford to lose.
On one level, these proposals, as potentially disastrous as they are, are a sign of a major shift in the fight against coal in this country – we are winning the battle to prevent further construction of coal fired power plants and shut down existing dirty and dangerous facilities.
Due to the tireless work of a vibrant coalition of allies in Chicago, the Fisk and Crawford plants will cease to poison surrounding communities by the end of this year. Out east, Gen-On is shuttering, not one or two plants, but eight in the coming years. It’s been a few years now since Oregonians and Washingtonians won their respective battles to schedule the shuttering of the single coal fired power plant in each state.
The coal companies though, like DDT manufacturers who could no longer sell their poison domestically, are looking abroad for a place to unload their toxic wares. Their solution to the steady decline in domestic demand: mine the coal in the Powder River Basin on Wyoming and Montana – mostly from public lands. Pay next to nothing for the right to strip mine land that belongs to all of us.
Destroy that land in the process. Load the coal onto trains and send it west – hundreds and hundreds of miles west, to ports in Oregon and Washington. Load it onto giant ships and send it half way around the world to Asia. Release more tons of carbon into the atmosphere than we can afford to withstand. In the process communities, rivers, lakes, fish and wildlife, and people will be poisoned – because here’s the thing: coal burned anywhere is toxic everywhere.
So we are off on an adventure – documenting the places that would be most directly impacted by the proposals – talking to people in these communities, and spreading the word that the opposition to coal exports proposals is diverse and strong.
We’ll be tweeting from @quitcoal and @GreenpeacePNW, blogging our progress, working with our allies, including folks joining the trip from Portland, OR, Austin, TX, San Francisco, CA, Bellingham, WA, Seattle, WA, Sandpoint, ID, Denver, CO and Missoula, MT, and making new friends along the way to the Coal Export Action in Helena, MT.
#stopcoalexports. Leave it in the ground.