Coal trains: Companies seek economic boost, activists fear pollution
By Crystal Price KVAL News Published: Apr 17, 2012

EUGENE, Ore. – A new project could put coal trains on the tracks of cities and towns all over the Pacific Northwest.

‘Project Mainstay’ is a new project in the works that could soon transport coal across the state of Oregon to produce energy.

The plan is to ultimately send American coal to to other countries such as China and India that are growing at rapid rates. Companies are currently looking at sending the coal by rail from mines east of Montana through the Pacific Northwest.

Several cities are potential shipping points including Bellingham, Longview, and Coos Bay. The Port of Coos Bay could play a vital role in transporting American coal to Asia. Officials from the port said it would be an economic boost for the area.

“It could bring in 100 vessel calls a year,” said Elise Hamner, communications manager “Every ship that comes in here puts people to work.”

However, Eugene activists fear the open cars rolling through the state could cause environmental problems. They cite a major health concern, coal dust blowing off the cars.

“It lets out one pound of coal dust that is black coal dust,” said Lisa Arkin, Executive Director for Beyond Toxics. “All of this coal dust will be harming peoples’ lungs.”

The Port of Coos Bay said it has a plan to control emissions.

“If coal cars or any bulk commodity were to come in to Coos Bay, we’d expect them to use the best available technology to control emissions,” Hamner said.

But Arkin argues there’s no stopping the coal dust even with the best technology.

“Some coal companies have claimed that they can spray the coal down with a plastic polymer, but again we have a problem with plastics and pieces of plastic polymer also blowing off,” Arkin said. “Every which way you think about it, transporting coal is a bad idea for Oregon.”

The Port of Coos Bay is still in the research phase of the project. There is currently no timeline that says when any trains would start running.