Columbia River Tribes Oppose Plan for Coal Trains

Sep 4, 2013

With coal use in decline in the U.S., mining companies have found a steady revenue stream in overseas markets.

But to get it there requires a long journey by train and barge to export terminals along the Columbia River and in Puget Sound. That’s a problem, according to environmentalists and tribes who are calling for more impact studies.

“There are unknown effects of large amounts of coal going into the Columbia River. But even with just two loads a day going through, you can already see coal dust along the track," said Paul Lumley, executive director of the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission.

Another concern, says Lumley, is that the anticipated increase in rail traffic would result in a need for expansion, which would encroach on access to treaty fishing areas.

“We have several treaty fishing sites and also in-lieu treaty fishing villages. Our tribal members are right next to those tracks, and when the trains come through, there is no place for them to go,” Lumley said.

Meanwhile, officials at Burlington Northern Santa Fe point to research by federal regulators who have expressed doubts that unburned coal could have harmful effects on the environment.

So far, public response at hearings has been overwhelming. Both sides encourage tribal and non-tribal citizens to voice their opinions, either in writing or at the few remaining public hearings.