Coal Train, Comin’ ‘Round The Bend?

One-and-a-half-mile long trains, strung entirely with uncovered coal cars, may soon pass through Salem neighborhoods and within a half mile of our Capitol, downtown businesses, the State fairgrounds and numerous schools.

Since information began to emerge last fall that several energy companies were making initial moves to ship Wyoming coal by train to six ports in Washington and Oregon, and then by sea vessel to China and India, lines have been quickly drawn.

On one side, health advocates such as Oregon Physicians for Social Responsibility and environmentalists like Robert F. Kennedy, the Sierra Club and Beyond Toxics say the trains will release toxics that cause lung cancer, emphysema, asthma, stroke and heart attack.

On the other side of the issue, companies such as the international Ambre Energy (Australia) promise needed jobs in financially constrained rural Oregon counties and the Port of Coos Bay, to where the trains passing through Salem would be headed. They project jobs and a revitalized economy for the entire Coos Bay region and Eugene. All proponents of the trains say they intend to work within Oregon’s strict emissions guidelines.

Nearly in the center, Governor John Kitzhaber has expressed reservations and asked for thorough environmental impact statements (EIS) to be filed before plans progress much further. Such EIS, Kennedy says, will stop the preparations in their tracks.

The coal industry disagrees.