Johnny Cash cover band plays tribute to The Columbia Gorge and the threat coal exports have on our local communities, and the world environment as a whole.
On April 2, The Sierra Club and allies announced their plan to sue the coal industry and the railroads for allowing coal dust to blow off their cars and leak out the bottom. They identified several places in the Gorge including Horse Thief Lake and Dallesport where the coal dust was several inches deep next to the river.
Columbia Riverkeeper also floated some clean containers in the water and determined that coal dust was presently being released into the river. This seems to be a violation of the Clean Water Act.
I don’t know about Oregon, but in Clark County, if the County Commissioners allowed builders to track dust near a storm drain, the Commissioners would each be fined $25,000 per day per outfall. Why is the coal industry allowed to dump dust in the river, and other people aren’t?
Dust of any kind settles on, and rots, salmon eggs and the eggs of the bugs that juvenile salmon eat. The coal industry is planning to export 30 miles of coal trains per day through the Gorge. Trains will cross dozens of salmon bearing streams before reaching the proposed terminals in Longview, Clatskanie, Boardman, and Bellingham.
In 2005, the White House said that for every $1 we spend reducing diesel emissions, we’d save $4 in health care costs. Since then we’ve spent millions cleaning the diesel engines of school buses, long haul trucks and public transit. We did this to protect our health and blue skies, not to provide room for 1300 diesel locomotives and 100 tugs to traverse our air-shed every week. Locomotives won’t begin to meet the new emission standards until 2016.
This summer there will be a public hearing regarding the proposed Longview Terminal. If you want to be notified, write to [email protected]
Cheers to the Sierra Club for protecting salmon and air quality.
By Don Steinke of Vancouver, Washington
By BARBARA G. ELLIS, Ph.D
The possibility of fires at coal terminals should be a major factor, seemingly ignored, in the current federal/state investigation involving Ambre Energy, Kinder Morgan, or any coal company seeking site permits at Boardman, Longview, and Columbia County—or at Coos Bay. They are unlike any other fire and cannot be extinguished by water. Water only sets off explosions and intensifies a blaze.
A contributing factor, equally major, is that most fire departments near new coal-storage terminals lack training programs, equipment, and supplies vital to any firefighter. That is the warning and recommendations issued in a recent national report from the Centers of Disease Control and the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health.
The report was spurred by the deaths of two young South Dakota firefighters who lost their lives in 2011 when they poured water down a storage silo holding Powder River Basin coal. It set off an explosion that intensified the flames. Neither they nor their fellow firefighters had coal-fire training. Nor did their station have the special haz-mat equipment (monitors, piercing rods, etc.), or special coal-fire chemicals (F-500, etc.).
As the U.S. Department of Energy officials has pointed out:
“Spontaneous combustion has long been recognized as a fire hazard in stored coal. Spontaneous combustion fires usually begin as “hotspots” deep within the reserve of coal. The hotspots appear when oxygen seeps into stored coal. Heat generated by the oxidation then initiates the fire.”
Once a “hotspot” finally explodes, it ignites a fierce and almost unquenchable fire engulfing whole areas, such as the uncontained 100-year-old mine fire that still burns in Glenwood Springs CO. It surfaced in 2002 and set off a 12,000-acre, $6.5 million forest fire. Environmentally, a coal fire of any kind—mine, terminal, barge, train—emits “a haze of soot, carbon monoxide and compounds of sulfur and nitrogen…also releases arsenic, fluorine and selenium.”
Wyoming’s Powder River coal, at issue in the Pacific Northwest, is significantly even more volatile than coal mined east of the Mississippi River. Indeed, in weighing the speed of a coal-ignited explosion (the Kst value) leading to a fire, researchers for Western Kentucky Energy Corporation, noted: “… the explosibility of PRB coal can be up to two times that of bituminous coal.” Those familiar with this sub-bituminous coal say that it cannot be stored for more than 14 days without hotspots appearing.
Moreover, when coal ignites after quietly smoldering as a “hotspot” under deliveries of fresh coal—even under Ambre’s proposed covered terminal—it requires highly trained coal-fire personnel to extinguish the blaze. Indeed, utility companies storing PRB coal have been so concerned about this hazard that they formed a group called PRB Coal Users’ Group. They have on-call coal-firefighting providers such as F.E. Moran Special Hazard Systems and Hazard Control Technologies.
Such firms exist because coal companies can’t rely on local firefighters dealing with 26-foot mountains of stored coal. Or stored inside terminals—or silos, as was the fatal case in Britton, SD. Water sets off such explosions and additional fire because “heat ignites floating coal dust in the air.” Water also makes remaining coal unmarketable.
Those specialty squads use state-of-the-art tools such as thermal monitors and infrared scanners to check hot spots in stored coal and carbon monoxide levels, respectively. (This is a 24/7 job—without smoke/coffee breaks.) Hazard-mitigation systems use the new F-500 agent and piercing rods that must be expertly guided through a coal pile to find a hotspot.
In the Columbia Gorge, the likelihood is that Ambre and Kinder Morgan probably will rely on the local fire department such as Boardman’s seven firefighters or those near Port Westward—none trained for coal fires—to handle a Glenwood Spring-like conflagration. That means local taxpayers will wind up footing the bill for training, equipment, and supplies. And fighting fires.
Ambre’s vow of covering its terminal—as well as barges, trains—to keep the Gorge’s ferocious winds from blowing toxic coal dust into communities, will hardly block oxygen seepage into stored coal. If coverage were remotely successful, it would have been done decades ago by Eastern coal companies. They still transport and store most coal “uncovered” because of combustion and subsequent ruinously expensive litigation over fires, environmental damage, as well as losses of life and property damage.
As for the Port Westward site—including Kinder Morgan’s proposed terminal—Ambre Energy officials say it will only include a shiploader and its dock to move coal from barges to ocean-going freighters bound for Asian markets. Yet twice last year at Longview (April and November), a shiploader’s machinery and conveyor belt caught fire moving grain to freighters. The prospect of a coal fire spreading from shiploader to a freighter’s hold and back to barges—and nearby vegetation—and timber near Clatskanie and Ranier—in dry months, is entirely possible.
Before any permits are issued for Ambre or any other coal shipper to construct and utilize terminals in the Gorge, a thorough investigation must be done by federal and state agencies about their fire-protection histories for terminals and surrounding environment. Moreover, affected communities up and down the Gorge need to ask these vital questions of Ambre and Kinder Morgan: Are they willing to underwrite all the expenses involved in training, equipping, and supplying local fire departments to fight coal-storage fires? Are they willing to pay the wages of local firefighters involved in putting out a coal fire? Are they willing to pay for all damages to neighboring properties if a coal fire should spread beyond their company fences?
Any promises to take care of these responsibilities by Ambre and Kinder Morgan should be put in a contractual document with those affected communities long before permits are issued. And state and federal agencies need to consider the coal-fire factor in issuing those permits.
Barbara G. Ellis, Ph.D, a former journalism professor at Oregon State University, is now a principal at Ellis & Associates, LLC of Portland. She is an environmentalist, a member of the Columbia Gorge Protection Alliance, and lives in Southeast Portland.
I showed up late to the event, and initially did not understanding why people weren’t cheering or booing after each speaker, but I quickly learned that the rule was to wave your sign or hands in the air silently to show support or disapproval of the speakers. From my perspective, on the back wall, the attendance was mostly made up of No Coal supporters, subsequently most of the room was blanketed in red, as you can see from the photo I took from the event.
For what seemed like every 15, two minute time slop to speak, 13 or so would be No Coal supporters, and 2 would be Pro Coal supporters.
Unfortunately there was not enough time for everyone who wanted to speak, so numbers were selected, similar to a lottery. Though I am a No Coal supporter, I was actually hoping to hear from more of the Pro Coal supports, so I could gain a better understand the perspective.
The coals supporters along with wearing a green shirt that read “Let’s Get To Work”, they also had signs that read “Check The Facts”.
Can someone please share with me “These Facts”? At the event, in my opinion, they were not clearly outlined, though I would certainly like to learn more about them.
And when Pro Coal supports say ” let’s get back to work”!
Can someone share with me how many jobs COAL in the NW is going to create? This was also unclear.
I look forward to learning more…
Coal-export foes, including many bused in from Salem and Hood River, appeared to outnumber supporters at the last DEQ meeting, before considering whether to issue draft permits by the end of February.
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Don McDermott, a retired railroad fraud prevention executive and owner of a Columbia River Gorge vineyard, fears coal dust coating his grapes. In the small town of Rainier, WA, where rail tracks run right down the middle of Main Street (like many cities here in The Gorge), industrial designer Duncan MacKenzie fears if a coal train passes through every hour, Rainier will not be the kind of place future generations will want to call home. “We know about the trains and we live with it, but that’s once or twice a day, not every time you turn around,” he says.
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Coal companies and railroads, which proposed to ship coal from Montana and Wyoming to Northwest ports — for export to China — have blitzed the airwaves with TV commercials, and hired public affairs firms staffed with former Democratic gubernatorial and congressional aides. (Sponsors of pro-coal-train TV spots have refused to specify who is paying how much to air them.
Supporters and opponents of proposed coal export terminals in the Northwest made their case before the Rotary Club of Vancouver this month. Speakers in the two-part series of presentations didn’t cover much new ground in the region-wide debate — both made familiar arguments for or against sending Asia-bound coal through the Northwest, mostly by train. But the presentations put a local spin on a conversation that’s so far mostly played out beyond Clark County.
Back in February 1981, Gov. Vic Atiyeh eagerly hosted 200 representatives of Big Coal, Big Rail, Big Banks and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in his push to build a coal export terminal on more than 90 acres of prime Portland riverfront. The Columbia River Gorge was to be the coal chute from Wyoming’s Powder River basin mines for coal-desperate Pacific Rim countries. His office and the state, he said, would back him. Hundreds of jobs were envisioned. He soon wielded a gold-plated shovel in groundbreaking ceremonies with Pacific Coal Corp.
Result: Two years later, despite the Port of Portland and investors spending $25 million on the venture, it died because, according to The Oregonian: “The Asian demand was based on promises … (and) the demand for coal had been vastly overstated.” The coal-company skedaddle set off a minefield of investor lawsuits and workers’ fury. A decade later, Los Angeles was taken for $47 million.
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