Seattle gearing up to oppose coal exports from northwest ports

May 23, 2012

For some it’s the next big source of high-wage jobs; for others, an environmental nightmare: At least 9 trains a day could soon rumble through Seattle, carrying coal to export terminals in Washington and Oregon.

Cities from Missoula, Mont., to Edmonds have passed resolutions that call the idea into question. Seattle is now poised to join them with one of its own.

At a public hearing on the issue, Carl Choo voiced the concerns of many environmentalists. He said Seattle should not support coal trains that would snarl local traffic and damage the environment.

“These companies want to ship hundreds of millions of tons of powdery coal down the Columbia River, up through western Washington, polluting our water, creating health hazards for people and lowering property values,” Choo testified.

But labor groups, port boosters and railroad workers testified against the resolution. Bob Waters, with SSA Marine, said new coal exports could generate millions for the local economy.

“We’re talking about 1,250 full-time jobs. We’re talking $128 million a year in payroll, injected into the Whatcom County area, we’re talking $11 million in state and local taxes, for schools, local police, social services, ” Waters said.

The resolution passed out of Seattle’s energy and environment committee with a unanimous vote.  But committee chair Mike O’Brien says he will urge the council to think about how to create more jobs for the region.

 “But do it in a way that these are sustainable jobs, that these people can go home at the end of the day and tell their kids, you know, I made some money to put some food on the table today. And I did it in a way that we’re making the planet a better place.”

Seattle’s resolution on the coal trains is expected to go before the full council next week.