Energy wars in America’s West are nothing new. But the rancour aroused by the coal-export proposal[from Montana and Wyoming to Japan, India and China through new ports built in Oregon and Washington] has become as toxic as a four-chimney belcher. Coal states accuse coastal ones of high-minded NIMBYism. Campaigners say corporations have a primeval attitude to the environment. Cities and counties lock horns over jobs and trade. Everyone accuses everyone else of bad faith, basic innumeracy and, in some cases, black ops.
Local objections focus on the trains that would carry coal to the Gateway Pacific Terminal. At capacity, 18 trains a day would run to and from the facility: nine bearing coal and nine returning empty to the mines. BNSF Railway, one of the project’s backers, says little new rail infrastructure would be needed, as traffic remains below its 2006 peak. Sceptics doubt that, and say the bill will be dumped on taxpayers.
Even without new tracks there is plenty to object to. The coal trains would rattle through central Seattle (the empties could return via other tracks, says BNSF), potentially gumming up roads already groaning with congestion. “I don’t want this terminal built,” says Mike McGinn, the mayor. In Bellingham, a group called Whatcom Docs (named for the surrounding county) worries about trains spewing diesel particulates. Others fret about coal dust flying off the trains; the Sierra Club, an environmental NGO, is threatening to sue BNSF for polluting Washington’s waterways.
Excerpts, Coal Exports in the North West: Dirty War, Economist, Apr. 20, 2013, at 35