New voices in debate over Northwest coal export terminals

Aug 1, 2012

More voices are chiming in on the debate over proposed coal terminals in the Northwest. A new report adds sports fishermen and tribes to the opposition. It comes less than a week after proponents launched a campaign touting the benefits coal exports could bring.

Six ports in Washington and Oregon are looking at proposals from big coal companies to construct new terminals that would expand US coal exports to growing markets in Asia. Huge rail cars would come from Montana and Wyoming, crisscrossing the states. Cities from Seattle to Spokane to Missoula have passed resolutions opposing the plans, because of concerns about increased train traffic and coal dust.

The new report from the National Wildlife Federation focuses on the threat to fish populations. It cites degraded water quality as a main concern, because of increased coal dust, mercury and carbon emissions. And it says expanded ports and shipping traffic could harm habitat for endangered species.

Russell Bassett is with the Association of Northwest Steelheaders, which joined the NWF in releasing the report. He says sports fishermen are worried about 13 endangered species of salmonids that are in the Columbia River – and the billion dollars a year that Washington and Oregon taxpayers spend to protect them.

“A lot of time, money and effort is going into recovering these fish species because they are of such economic and ecosystem importance and regional icons to us here,” Bassett says. “And we don’t want to see that jeopardized.”

The groups are joining the opposition’s call for a comprehensive environmental impact statement. They’re also urging the US Army Corps of Engineers to consider Native American treaty rights to healthy fish.

Meanwhile, a new lobbying group called the Alliance for Northwest Jobs & Exports launched a media blitz last week to support the coal terminal proposals. They argue if the Northwest doesn’t support expanded coal exports, some other region will get the much-wanted jobs and tax revenue. Dues paying members include big coal companies, labor unions and several chambers of commerce. Here's a sample ad from their website: