OLYMPIA, Wash. - Petitions
with more than 40,000 signatures were delivered Wednesday to Washington's commissioner of public lands, Peter Goldmark, by people concerned about the effects of increased rail shipments of coal across the state.
The trains would come from Montana and Wyoming, with coal bound mostly for China and India.
For towns along the routes, local businesses and environmental groups say there are plenty of risks to hosting up to 20 trains a day full of coal. Ginny Wolff, a retired Skagit County doctor, says she and her neighbors already live with traffic disruption, noise and air pollution from trains.
"I think of it as more than a hassle. The small communities along the rail tracks are being considered sacrifice zones. I don't think it's just a quality-of-life issue. I think it's a matter of economic survival."
The petitions were presented to Goldmark because his agency would have to lease coastal areas just offshore to the coal-terminal developers. Proponents of the projects - near Longview in the south and Cherry Point in the north - say it would create additional jobs and tax revenue.
Beth Doglio, director of the "Power Past Coal" coalition, says the new terminals also would be feeding a global problem - by supplying some of the world's largest and least-regulated polluters. She says that runs counter to Washington's reputation as a clean-energy leader.
"We want to be able to continue to attract clean energy to our state. We want to be exporting wind turbines and solar panels, and installing those - not tying up our train lines and our ports with the dirty fossil fuels of the past."
Goldmark says his Department of Natural Resources will be part of what he calls a "rigorous environmental review process" by multiple agencies. A group of doctors from Skagit and Whatcom counties has asked that they assess the health impacts of the shipments, as well as the environmental effects.