Hundreds Call for a Coal-Free Future in Washington

On Tuesday of this week more than 500 Washington citizens came together at the state capitol to push for legislative priorities selected by twenty-five leading environmental groups.  Washington faces many challenges this year, from protecting waterways from oil pollution to defending environmental agencies against budget cuts.  However in my own view the importance of one of this year’s priorities stands out more than any other: the push to transition Washington off the dirty TransAlta Coal Plant. 

More than any other action the state could take, replacing TransAlta with clean energy would slash Washington’s carbon footprint and protect public health from pollution.  Washington environmental groups like the Sierra Club are engaged in an all-out effort to secure a coal free future this year, pushing state legislation that would phase out coal combustion while setting up a fund to prepare the community of Centralia (where the plant is located) for new sources of industry.  Unsurprisingly, students have become an important part of this movement. 

“Washington stands at a crossroads,” said University of Washington graduate student Chris Gamble, who spoke about student efforts at a press conference Tuesday.  “We can continue to rely on dirty coal power, or embrace the clean energy of the future.”

Tuesday’s lobby day at the capitol coincided with a House Environment Committee hearing on the Coal Free Future for Washington bill, which would establish a timeline for the phase-out of coal combustion at TransAlta.  To say the hearing was well attended would be an understatement: not only were there too many people to fit in the hearing room, but the overflow room was itself filled to overflowing.  Folks like me stood outside the main room for more than an hour, waiting for the moment when someone left so that we could be admitted.  Inside the room legislators heard from citizens on both sides of the issue – and many people who testified made eloquent arguments for transitioning the state off its dirtiest power plant.

From health professionals to faith leaders to parents, Washington residents all over the state are united in calling for a coal-free future.  Students are also getting organized: there are now active Beyond Coal groups at seven Washington colleges and universities.  Student governments at three of these schools have passed resolutions urging the TransAlta Plant be closed by 2015, and similar resolutions at other schools are moving forward. 

“I really think student involvement is one of the most vital steps in helping to get these types of environmental initiatives to states legislators,” said Lori Briggs of Washington State University in Vancouver, which has passed a Beyond Coal resolution.  “It shows that the people who are being educated to lead us tomorrow have passion to see things change for the future and want to help be an active role in that change.”

For me it was invigorating to see so many passionate people of all ages take time away from work or school Tuesday to push for the future they know their state can have.  By eliminating the TransAlta Coal Plant Washington can do away with its biggest source of carbon emissions and mercury pollution, as well as an important emitter of smog and haze-causing pollutants, lead, arsenic, and other poisons that threaten public health.  Watching more than 500 people turn out for a cleaner, greener Washington was inspiring in the same way as seeing students at colleges and universities around the state organize for a coal-free future.

Make no mistake: a wave of clean energy activism is sweeping the nation.  And Washington’s turn has come.

8 Responses to “Hundreds Call for a Coal-Free Future in Washington”


  1. 1 Rising Tide Portland Feb 23rd, 2011 at 2:43 am

    Cowlitz County residents and supporters rally against Big Coal lies

    February 22, 2011

    50 people gathered on the steps of the Cowlitz County Administration Building in Kelso, WA today. The Rally for the Coal Hard Truth demanded that county commissioners revoke the permit issued to Ambre Energy subsidiary Millennium Bulk Logistics for a 5.7 million coal export terminal in the Port of Longview, WA on the Columbia River.
    The commissioners issued the permit without conducting an Environmental Impact Statement of the proposal. Furthermore, industry documents reveal Millennium’s true intention for the Port of Longview terminal to expand fivefold to a 25 million ton annual export facility – some documents report numbers as high as 60 million tons annually.
    A 25 million ton export facility requires miles of coal trains to travel through the windy Columbia Gorge, exposing the entire region to toxic coal dust linked to respiratory problems such as asthma. These mile-long coal trains will block traffic in Cowlitz County towns for 20 minutes each hour and make the rural county the largest exporter of coal on the West Coast of North America (currently the Port of Vancouver, BC exports approximately 21 million tons of coal per year).
    As Americans turn their back on dirty coal, exposing the truths to its destructive extraction processes, long-term health impacts and significant role in climate change, we must not ignore the profit-driven Big Coal companies willing to export our rejected energy sources despite these facts. Coal is dirty no matter where it is burned. Stopping West Coast coal export denies Big Coal profit and forces nations to reconsider their investment in nonrenewable energy and high resource lifestyles.
    The state of Washington needs to hear our voices rising up against Big Coal. Governor Christine Gregoire cannot promote Green Jobs, or sustainability while simultaneously allowing the largest coal export terminal on the West Coast of North America enter the Port of Longview.

    Send her a message at, http://www.governor.wa.gov/contact/
    and email Portland Rising Tide to find out more, Portland@RisingTideNorthAmerica.org

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About Nick


Nick is a freelance writer, climate activist, and a graduate student at the University of Montana. He got his start in activism by helping to establish a new campus recycling system at Portland Community College; since then he has organized to stop fossil fuel projects and open up space for clean energy in Oregon, Washington, and Montana. Nick is currently working with activists throughout the Greater Northwest to protect Northwest communities from coal export projects. When not in school or organizing for a clean energy future, he can be found hiking in the natural areas around Missoula, bird watching, or writing a novel.

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