SEATTLE (AP) — The Seattle City Council unanimously passed a resolution Tuesday opposing the development of coal-export terminals in Washington state after raising concerns about increased train traffic and potential harm to health and the environment from transporting coal across the state.
The vote came as the federal government is reviewing the first of at least six port facilities proposed in Washington and Oregon to ship coal from the Powder River basin of Montana and Wyoming to hungry markets in Asia.
If all the facilities are built, at least 100 million tons of coal a year could be carried in trains through the Northwest before being shipped to Asia.
Mining and burning more coal isn't consistent with the city's goal to fight climate change, said Councilmember Mike O'Brien, sponsor of the Seattle resolution.
"This goes against what we stand for from a climate change standpoint," he added.
A proposed coal-export terminal near Bellingham to ship up to 48 million tons of coal a year has direct impacts on people's health and the environment, he said.
Joe Ritzman of Seattle-based SSA Marine, which is proposing the Gateway Pacific Terminal at Cherry Point, spoke against the resolution. It presupposes the outcome of the environmental reviews that are currently under way, he told council members.
Project leaders have said it will create hundreds of family-wage jobs and provide much-needed revenue to government.
"We view this as an attack on our jobs," said Mike Elliott of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen, who also testified against the resolution.
The city does not have a direct role in regulatory decisions involving the proposed terminals, but O'Brien said trains would come through Seattle.
Smaller Northwest communities including Hood River, Ore., and Camas, Washougal and Marysville in Washington, have also passed resolutions raising concerns about the impact of potential increased rail traffic along the Columbia River Gorge and through the Puget Sound corridor. Seattle is the largest city so far to oppose the Northwest coal-export projects.
"I'm here because my public places are important to me and my children's health is important to me," said Kimberly Christensen, a Seattle mother, who favored the resolution. She added that she didn't want to push the coal problem onto China.
Many who opposed coal exports said they worry about potential health problems from coal dust carried in long open-rail cars traveling across the state and from burning and mining more coal. They also spoke against train traffic along Seattle's downtown waterfront that could stifle other economic growth.
"We have multiple routes and I can't tell you what we'd use," said Suann Lundsberg, a spokeswoman with BNSF Railway. "We can't necessarily tell you that any facility up in Ferndale would cause an increase in traffic in Seattle."
About 70 freight and passenger trains travel through Seattle each day, she said. She declined to say how many carried coal, noting it was proprietary information.
Trains currently carry coal through Seattle to the only coal-export terminal on the West Coast located in British Columbia. Shippers are currently required to load the coal in a bread-loaf shape and put a seal on the top to prevent coal dust from flying off, though that rule is currently being challenged, Lundsberg said.
Aside from Cherry Point, five other projects have been proposed at Longview and Port of Grays Harbor in Washington state, as well as Coos Bay in Oregon and two sites on the Columbia River.
Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Washington Department of Ecology have all asked the Army Corps of Engineers to thoroughly review the cumulative impacts of exporting large amounts of coal from Wyoming and Montana to Asia.
The corps is reviewing the permit application of one of the projects at Port of Morrow near Boardman, Ore.
Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire wants to know the impacts, said her spokeswoman Karina Shagren, but wants to let the regulatory process play out before taking any position.