FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: March 14, 2012

  • Contact: Shane Levy, Sierra Club, 415-977-5724, shane.levy@sierraclub.org
  • Lisa Arkin, Beyond Toxics 541-465-8860, larkin@beyondtoxics.org

Port of Coos Bay continues to hide health, environmental threats of coal exports

Coos Bay, OR – In a challenge to transparency and the health of Oregon residents, the Port of Coos Bay on Tuesday filed an appeal to Coos County District Attorney Paul Frasier’s decision to partially grant a fee waiver to the Sierra Club under the Oregon Public Records Act. The Sierra Club has requested information about coal export development plans at the Port of Coos Bay, and the Port has charged a nearly $20,000 fee. Under Oregon law, such fees are ordinarily waived when the public interest will be served by the release of the information.

Beyond Toxics, an organization that has worked on rail yard contamination and air pollution issues for almost a decade in the city of Eugene, has also submitted a public records request to the Port of Coos Bay, citing the threats to the public from transporting coal by train through the Columbia Gorge, Willamette Valley, scenic Siuslaw Watershed and crossing numerous lakes in Oregon’s mid-Coast region. The Port of Coos Bay has also charged Beyond Toxics almost $22,000 for its public records request.

In response, Laura Stevens, Sierra Club Organizing Representative in Portland, issued the following statement:

“Tuesday’s appeal demonstrates the lengths to which the Port of Coos Bay will go to keep Oregonians in the dark about its plans to open our state to millions of tons of dirty, dangerous coal. Perhaps the Port’s reluctance to reveal public information about coal exports development is because the plans will pollute Oregon’s air, land and water.

“The Port of Coos Bay ought to tell Oregonians the truth about a plan to endanger public health by sending hundreds of coal trains monopolizing rail lines while spewing toxic coal dust across the state, dredging huge channels in Coos Bay, and damaging local commercial and sports fishing and oyster industries. The Port of Coos Bay plan would dump toxic coal on the docks, release fugitive emissions and fill Jordan Cove with massive diesel-fueled ships, hurting tourism and recreation opportunities.

“Coal export development plans should not be decided in backroom discussions with big multinational fossil fuel interests. The people of Oregon have a right to weigh in.”

Lisa Arkin, Executive Director of Beyond Toxics, issued the following statement:

“Our concern is that numerous coal trains, some as much as a mile and a half long, coming into Eugene, stopping in Eugene, changing tracks in Eugene and leaving through Eugene would pose a severe health risk not only to the neighborhoods closest to the tracks but to all Eugene residents.”

“If open trainloads of coal go through Eugene it will be a health concern for everyone, but especially children. The area already has one of the highest rates of asthma in the state and is well above the nation average for childhood asthma. We can’t possibly allow several coal trains to come through Eugene and add the burden of coal dust to the lungs of our children.”

“Beyond Toxics believes that the public has a right to know about the plans to haul dirty coal and the negative consequences to environmental and public health. They have the right to participate in the decision making process from the very beginning, and to have all information out in the public domain for equal access.”

“When the Port demands a $22,000 fee from a small non-profit to obtain public documents, it sends a chilling message to all Oregonians who want to participate in the public decision making process.”

David Petrie, Founder of Coos Waterkeeper, issued the following statement:

“It’s unacceptable that the Oregon International Port of Coos Bay is risking thousands of taxpayer dollars on a dirty coal project negotiated behind closed doors, and stonewalling organizations seeking public records. Citizens of Oregon have the right to know what multinational corporations are behind a project to exploit our environment, damage our health, reduce home values, and threaten commercial fishing and oyster farming. It’s time the Port of Coos Bay stopped playing games with public information and wasting taxpayer money.”

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