The Gristle

Coal Folds

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

COAL FOLDS: Forty cars of a coal train derailed in Montana last week, dumping an unknown amount of coal into nearby Rocky Creek. 

“Some of the cars filled with coal were left intact while others were mangled,” the Bozeman Daily Chronicle reported. “Others folded like an accordion or fell off the tracks.”

Something analogous might be said of the Wyoming legislature’s attempt to smash open the Pacific states to more coal exports. That state’s House Judiciary Committee passed a bill last week that would authorize lawmakers to sue Washington for denying a crucial permit for a proposed coal-shipping terminal on the Columbia River.

Wyoming and five other states—Kansas, Montana, Nebraska, South Dakota, and Utah—are filing friend-of-the-court briefs siding with the developer of a proposed $680 million shipping facility at Longview, Washington.

The Powder River Basin in northeast Wyoming and southeast Montana is the nation’s top coal-producing region. Their problem? They don’t have ocean-front property.

Six other states that do have coasts—California, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Massachusetts,  and Oregon—have filed a friend-of-the-court brief in support of Washington. The Washington Department of Ecology denied the project a water-quality permit in 2017, saying there were too many major harmful effects including air pollution, rail safety and vehicle traffic. The Longview project is the only project still remaining among six coal terminals originally proposed for Oregon and Washington.

The coal industry suffered another heavy blow in the other Vancouver last week, as the British Columbia province joined the West Coast states and canceled a key permit for the Fraser Surrey Docks project.

The terminal was planned to ship 4 million tons of Powder River Basin coal to Asia, adding coal train traffic and air pollution to communities throughout the Pacific Northwest.

In 2014, the Port of Vancouver, BC, approved a plan for coal to be loaded onto barges for transport to Texada Island on to ships bound for Asia. The project was amended in 2015 to allow for direct loading onto ocean-going ships in the Fraser River. The company change would have meant 80 ships compared with 640 barges on the lower Fraser, including arrivals and departures, but communities such as Surrey and New Westminster remained adamantly opposed to the project.

Fraser Surrey Docks describes itself as the largest modern, multipurpose marine terminal on the west coast of North America, handling 300 to 400 deep-sea vessels per year.

“This is a massive victory for the health and safety of our communities and the stability of our climate,” Regna Merritt, co-director of the Power Past Coal coalition, said in a statement. “The Fraser Surrey terminal would have meant more dirty coal trains polluting the air and water in communities throughout Montana, Idaho, and Washington. The decision to cancel permits for this coal port shows that the world is turning away from the dirty energy of the past and towards a clean energy future.”

If coal is an unloved product in its export, it is equally unloved as a competitor in modern energy markets.

“We’ve seen plenty of actions over the past year and a half designed to end the coal industry’s long-term economic slide,” Sightline Institute’s Clark Williams-Derry notes, including new tariffs on renewable energy sources, rollbacks on the Obama administration’s clean power plan, and a call for outright subsidies for economically failing coal and nuclear plants. “Despite it all… the economics aren’t going to get any better for coal in the years to come,” Williams-Derry argues.

“The brutal truth is that even in a best-case scenario Asian coal demand would never be able to replace the production that’s going from the Powder River, which lost about 100 million short tons of output between 2014 and 2016 alone—greater than the total volume of U.S. coal exports,” analysts for the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA) concluded in a report in October.

It is a mined-out product; and chasing it to its grave exhausts our lives and our ecosystem.

Canada’s First Nations and Washington state tribes increased the pressure on British Columbia to join the West Coast coalition, calling for a moratorium on new marine vessel traffic stressors to the Salish Sea.

“Fisheries, resident orca populations, sacred sites and traditional economies are all threatened by new and/or expanded port facilities and the additional shipping associated with such facilities,” Coast Salish Nations on both sides of the Canadian/U.S. border noted in a joint press conference last week.

“Lummi Nation is calling for a moratorium on projects that would increase shipping and related pressures to the Salish Sea until a comprehensive, interjurisdictional cumulative impacts assessment has been conducted,” said Lawrence Solomon of the Lummi Indian Business Council.

“Our connection to the killer whale is personal, is relational, and goes back countless generations,” Lummi Chairman Jay Julius said. “Our name for them, qwe ‘lhol mechen, means our relations below the waves.”

Rueben George of the Tsleil-Waututh Nation, who also took part in last week’s press conference, spoke of his horror at declining orca and salmon numbers.

“That to me is the canary in the coal mine,” he said. “The animals are going… it’s happening, and it’s not going to be too long before it’s affecting all of us.”

Past Columns
A Working Waterfront?

October 15, 2019

Keep Working

October 9, 2019

Signs of Hate

October 2, 2019

Trust Gap

September 25, 2019

Netse Mot

September 18, 2019

A Rising Tide

September 11, 2019

The Power of Change

September 4, 2019

Hands Against Hate

August 28, 2019

Ground Zero

August 21, 2019

Fire and Frost

August 14, 2019

The Fury and the Folly

August 7, 2019

Due East II

July 31, 2019

The Real Social Network

July 17, 2019

Due East

July 3, 2019

Thin Green Line

June 26, 2019

A Journeyman’s Journey

June 12, 2019

Her Story

June 5, 2019

Do Overs

May 29, 2019

Fall Lynden Craft and Antique Show

10:00am|Northwest Washington Fairgrounds

My Fair Lady

7:30pm|Anacortes Community Theatre


7:30pm|Firehouse Arts and Events Center


7:30pm|Sylvia Center for the Arts

Whatcomics Call for Art

10:00am|Whatcom County

Wishes and Dreams Call for Art

10:00am|Gallery Syre

Gore and Lore Tours

6:00pm|Downtown Bellingham, historic Fairhaven

Anacortes Vintage Market's Evergreens and Icicles

6:00pm|Port Transit Event Center

Scream Fair's Camp Fear

7:00pm|Northwest Washington Fairgrounds

Matilda the Musical

7:30pm| Lincoln Theatre


7:30pm|Upfront Theatre


8:00pm|Old Main Theater

Community Pancake Breakfast

8:00am|Blaine Senior Center

Ferndale Breakfast

8:00am|Ferndale Senior Center

Orca Recovery Day Work Party

9:00am|Nooksack River

Anacortes Farmers Market

9:00am|Depot Arts Center

Yoga and Detox

9:00am|Community Food Co-op

Blanchard Beast Trail Race

9:00am|Blanchard Forest Lower Trailhead

Twin Sisters Farmers Markets

9:00am|North Fork Library

98221 Studio Tour

10:00am|Fidalgo Island

Bellingham Comicon

10:00am|Ferndale Event Center

Steam Expo

10:00am|Lynden Middle School

Bellingham Farmers Market

10:00am|Depot Market Square

Blaine Gardeners Market

10:00am|H Street Plaza

Your Life is a Story Writer's Group

10:30am|South Whatcom Library

Correspondence Club

10:30am|Mindport Exhibits

Fall Festival

11:00am|Camp Korey

Kraut-chi Ferment Class

11:00am|Chuckanut Center

Winter Warmth Drive and Pickup

11:00am|Assumption Church Gym

Art Therapy Workshop

1:30pm|Museum of Northwest Art

Telling Tough Stories

2:00pm|South Whatcom Library

Fables and Tales Upcycle Runway Challenge

6:00pm|Settlemeyer Hall

Concrete Ghost Walk

6:00pm|Concrete Theatre

Brew on the Slough

6:00pm|Maple Hall

Bellingham Hoptoberfest

6:00pm|Civic Way Sportsplex

How I Learned I'm Old

7:00pm|Village Books

Take Me to the River Live

7:30pm|Mount Baker Theatre

Skagit Symphony presents Highland Heritage

7:30pm|McIntyre Hall

My Fair Lady

7:30pm|Anacortes Community Theatre


7:30pm|Firehouse Arts and Events Center

Whatcomics Call for Art

10:00am|Whatcom County

Wishes and Dreams Call for Art

10:00am|Gallery Syre

Matilda the Musical

7:30pm| Lincoln Theatre

98221 Studio Tour

10:00am|Fidalgo Island

Sedro-Woolley Community Breakfast

8:00am|American Legion Post #43

Trails to Taps Relay

9:00am|Depot Market Square

Birchwood Farmers Market

10:00am|Park Manor Shopping Center

Bellingham Handmade Market

11:00am|Goods Nursery and Produce

Langar in Lynden

11:00am| Guru Nanak Gursikh Gurdwara

Wild Mushroom Show

12:00pm|Bloedel Donovan Community Building

Harvest Festival

1:00pm|Centennial Riverwalk

Skagit Topic

2:00pm|Skagit County Historical Museum

What If We All Bloomed?

4:00pm|Village Books

Murder Mystery Dessert Theater

6:00pm|Christ Fellowship Church

Wishes and Dreams Call for Art

10:00am|Gallery Syre

Whatcomics Call for Art

10:00am|Whatcom County

Whatcom Housing Week

10:00am|Whatcom County

Northwest Paella

6:30pm|Community Food Co-op


7:00pm|Alternative Library


9:00pm|Firefly Lounge

see our complete calendar »