This post was submitted to It’s Getting Hot in Here by Emma Newman, of the Climate Justice League at University of Oregon.
As coal plants in the United States continue to close, local organizations around the country appear to have struck a blow to the industry. But in reality, as coal consumption decreases in our country, global demand continues to rise. A result of this shift in demand can be found in recent proposals to ship Powder River Basin coal from Montana and Wyoming through several Northwest ports. One of these proposals would bring coal right through the city of Eugene, to the Port of Coos Bay.
Eugene has been given a unique opportunity to combat coal by rallying against this proposal. Not only are coal mining and combustion dirty; its transportation presents significant health hazards as well. The coal passing right through downtown Eugene, slowing traffic for up to eight minutes would be transported in open bed coal trains.
More than 100 tons of coal dust per train will blow off between Montana and Coos Bay. The dust contains heavy metals such as lead and mercury and causes lung diseases, as well as pollution from the diesel that fuels the trains. Regionally, the health impacts of coal follow the transportation and watershed routes.
This is a major issue we face as a community, region, and nation and it represents a textbook environmental justice problem. Environmental justice (EJ) is a social movement that includes mainly people of marginalized communities and focuses on the environment directly around people in society who carry many environmental burdens in their everyday lives, including living and working conditions. EJ strives to bring communities autonomy through their fight for civil and human rights. The coal trains will be passing directly through the Whiteaker neighborhood, a historically working class part of the city.
Emma Newman, a Co-Director of the Cascade Climate Network, went on an environmental justice tour in West Eugene last week and saw the neighborhoods that would be hardest hit. “One neighborhood,” Emma said, “was literally surrounded by a train yard on one side and train tracks on the other. They are already suffering from a toxic plume in their well water and the last thing that they need is coal dust drifting over their park and onto their vegetable gardens.”
The consequences of building these coal export terminals in the Pacific Northwest would be widespread and severe; from the direct impact on the health of citizens and the local economy, to the contribution of coal to climate change. There are very real implications when it comes to environmental justice, and the disproportionate amount of harm this project would present to people in our community, particularly those unfortunate enough to live close enough to the tracks to experience firsthand the pollution caused by the transportation of coal.
These ports would not benefit the vitality of the Northwest or the individuals mining the coal, but they would continue to fill the pocketbooks of those most powerful in the coal industry.
People in the region are working to stop this, both through direct actions and legislative measures, as well as campus initiatives to show student support for alternatives to coal. The Climate Justice League, a student organization at the University of Oregon, is working with local groups including the community-wide group No Coal Eugene to assert the rights of Eugene over big coal. Say No to coal in Eugene. To learn more, please visit nocoaleugene.org or climatejusticeleague.org.
The No Coal Eugene campaign is a UO Climate Justice League campaign. The mission of the Climate Justice League is to empower students to organize their communities and be leaders in the climate justice movement. By using targeted campaigns, we will work together toward a safe, just and sustainable future for all.