PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — Environmental lawyer Robert F. Kennedy Jr. said Monday that a proposal to bring coal to Oregon and Washington state will lead to political corruption and environmental damage, while the actual number of jobs it will create is minimal.
Speaking at an anti-coal rally, Kennedy said coal's influence would seep into the Statehouse, buying legislators who would otherwise vote against the proposal with campaign money and the promise of jobs.
"It's going to end up leaving Portland with a legacy of pollution, poison and corruption," Kennedy said.
About a half-dozen proposals would bring coal mined in Western states to ports in Oregon and Washington state. It would then be exported to China.
Environmentalists argue that the dust emitted from trains hauling coal would settle and pollute the proposed routes — including parts of Portland — while opening the door to further environmental damage from its use in Asia.
Kennedy said the U.S. believes it can export the environmental problems from coal, but it will find that mercury from its use in Asia washes up on the Pacific shore while acidifying the ocean.
"Anybody who touches coal gets poisoned by it," said Kennedy, president of the environmental advocacy group Waterkeeper Alliance. "You don't just get sick. It poisons democracy, it poisons communities, it poisons values.
"Coal is crime. Do not let it come through this community."
Proponents argue that the coal shipments would create much-needed jobs at the ports in a state where unemployment has hovered near the double digits since the Great Recession began.
Millennium Bulk Terminals, a Columbia River port in Longview, Wash., has applied for permits to make it one of the largest coal exporters in North America.
"I'm not sure a rally in Portland for a few hours will overshadow ... the commitment we've made to creating jobs here in Longview," said Millennium Bulk Terminals-Longview president Ken Miller. "Millennium is making a significant investment in our community and we are proud of our plan to create hundreds of jobs in Cowlitz County."
Kennedy said in interviews before the rally that the job gains would be minimal, especially compared with the amount of damage created by producing and shipping coal.
"We've got lots of better sources for jobs," Kennedy said. "If you were really interested in jobs, let's build wind farms, let's build solar plants. Let's use the marketplace to incentivize good behavior."