Spokane Has Concerns Over Proposed Coal Terminals

Apr 11, 2012

The prospect of trains carrying a mile-long string of coal cars has some Spokane area residents concerned. Proposals to build coal shipping terminals on the Washington coast to ship coal to China could have an impact on the Spokane region. The coal would be shipped from Wyoming via train, and those trains would come right through the city of Spokane.

The plan has many concerned about what the impact would be.

“These trains are one to 1.5 miles, they have four diesel spewing engines carrying these massive loads,” says Bart Mihailovitch. He is with the Spokane Riverkeepers group.

Mihailovitch says up to 50 trains per day could come through the city if the terminals get approved, and he says there are several environmental issues he is worried about.

"Diesel pollution increase, noise pollution increase, the traffic congestion, wear and tear on our infrastructure, coal dust is a possibility.”

Those concerns have not gone unnoticed by state officials.

“We need to do some scoping," says Jani Gilbert, a spokeswoman for the Ecology Department. "And what that means is we will be going out to ask the public what issues they are concerned about. In order to respond to concerns, we need to know what they are.”

Gilbert says that scoping process will take place sometime this summer, and her agency will work on an environmental impact statement for Spokane in relation to the trains.

The Spokane Regional Clean Air Agency has already been in the discussion phase over that the impact from the trains could be here. The agency’s Ron Edgar says the effect on the regions air will be minimal:

“The newer, cleaner engines are pulling those trains. Even if they double the road engine emissions it’s not significant. There are only six to eight tons of emissions total. You wouldn’t see much impact except close to the tracks.”

Opponents to the coal trains have already delivered a petition to Department of Natural Resources chief Peter Goldmark, asking that he try to stop the terminals from being built.

Goldmark explains that his role in the permitting process deals with waterways where the terminals would be constructed.

"The process is likely to go on for at least one or two years before a completed application will appear on my desk," Goldmark says. "So I’m trying to be a responsible public official here, and not be pre-decisional, because all the analysis needs to be in place before we even start our work."

At least two Washington cities have been proposed as home to the coal shipping terminals.