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Pacific Northwest: Sending coal to China?

Long coal train, South Dakota, 1946. Carol M Highsmith, American (Carol M. Highsmith's America, Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.)

SSA Marine, which is 51% owned by Goldman Sachs, has applied for federal and state permits  to build facilities at Cherry Point to ship coal from the Rocky Mountains to China, thereby making the Pacific Northwest the largest coal exporting region in the country. (As many as half a dozen future sites have been proposed along the Oregon and Washington coast. If all of them were built and operated to planned capacity, those ports would ship 50% more coal than the entire country did in 2011.)

Most of the coal would come from the Powder River Basin in Wyoming and Montana; the coal would arrive on the coast either by train or river barges. What could possibly go wrong?

Physicians fret about an explosion of locomotive exhaust, while mayors grumble about the potential for long traffic-snarling trains. Washington state fears 1,200 new barge trips on the Columbia River could spark more accidents and marine-vessel groundings. Tribes worry that spilled coal could poison aquatic food webs.

But as the federal government begins its first lengthy review of plans to ship coal through Northwest ports, it’s not clear how — or if — the feds will weigh in on perhaps the most far-reaching issue: the potential effect new markets for coal could have on greenhouse-gas emissions.

There’s more information about the Gateway Pacific Terminal at Cherry Point near Ferndale, Washington, here and here. SSA has provided some more details to its proposal which the Bellingham Herald explains here.

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  • Thomas Ware

    No, it will not happen. It will not happen. trust me, I’ve seven generations – It. Will. Not. Happen.

    The sound you don’t hear is me jacking a round into my well-oiled ARA2. It. Will. Not. Happen. (Ten Bears)

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