Thursday, March 7, 2013

How the Missoula coal spill relates to this week's cover story

Posted By on Thu, Mar 7, 2013 at 7:00 AM

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As the Independent went to press with this week's "Coal Train Coming" cover story, news broke about three rail cars derailing in Missoula and spilling 80 tons of coal. A Missoula Rail Link spokesperson said the Missoula derailment involved no injuries and no hazardous material, and the cause remains under investigation.

Talk about timing. This relatively minor incident is exactly why many people are concerned about plans to ship millions more tons of coal across the state to new export terminals in Washington and Oregon. What happens then?

“The coal train derailment within the Missoula city limits today is another reminder of the dangers of increased coal trains from the Powder River Basin through Montana for export to China and other Asian countries,” said Beth Kaeding, a Bozeman member of the Northern Plains Resource Council’s statewide Coal Task Force, in a statement.

“There are numerous proposed coal-export terminal projects in Oregon and Washington," she continued. "Together, the announced capacity is about 150 million tons of coal per year. At full capacity, this would mean up to 40 coal trains full and empty and each about a mile and half long, moving through Montana, every day year-round. These trains will result in a significant adverse effect on Montana communities."

Her full statement appears below.

In the meantime, read this week's feature for an in-depth look at the issue.

Here's Kaeding's full statement:

The coal train derailment within the Missoula city limits today is another reminder of the dangers of increased coal trains from the Powder River Basin through Montana for export to China and other Asian countries,” said Beth Kaeding, a Bozeman member of the Northern Plains Resource Council’s statewide Coal Task Force.

There are numerous proposed coal-export terminal projects in Oregon and Washington. Together, the announced capacity is about 150 million tons of coal per year. At full capacity, this would mean up to 40 coal trains full and empty and each about a mile and half long, moving through Montana, every day year-round. These trains will result in a significant adverse effect on Montana communities.

Residents who live near the tracks already complain about the noise from the current train traffic, diesel exhaust, and numerous health ailments related to these issues.

Increased coal train traffic will result in more traffic delays at crossings with impacts to commerce, cross-town travelers, and emergency responders; an increase in health risks to citizens from airborne pollutants (particulate matter) from diesel engines as well as from coal dust; more noise; and increased financial costs to Montana communities. By law, the railroads do not have to respond to community requests to help with infrastructure upgrades.

The U.S. demand for Powder River Basin coal is declining. The pollution from less-regulated overseas coal-buring plants results in negative effects on the world’s climate. Climate change will have significant impacts on Montana, from our water supplies to the productive capacity of agricultural lands. In Montana, the most noticeable signs today of climate change include an earlier snow melt, an earlier start to the spring growing season, and a more pronounced mid-summer drought period.

More coal-burning power plants, especially in the developing world, are the main reason heat-trapping CO2 emissions keep going up in the world — even as those emissions have declined in the U.S. and Europe, in large part due to increased use of natural gas, renewable energy resources, energy efficiency, and conservation.

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