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Coal, Coal, Go Away

While Eugene braces itself for possible coal trains and their choking dust, citizens of other states are already well aware of the high costs of coal to the environment and to human health. 

The Port of Coos Bay’s coal export proposal that would require open-car coal trains over a mile long chugging through Lane County may have hit a snag. It will cost millions of dollars to repair the Coos Bay Rail Link, the railroad track that goes from Eugene to Coos Bay, enough to carry the loads of coal.

The Coos Bay World reports that a $190,000 assessment outlined three scenarios involving from two to six trains coming in and out of Coos Bay. The study was paid for by Project Mainstay, the code name for the anonymous coal company looking to export coal through Oregon. The repairs, aside from deferred maintenance, would be paid for be private companies, not the port, according to a Port of Coos Bay representative.

Coal took another blow at the national level last week when the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced its first carbon pollution standard for new power plants, a move that analysts say will discourage new coal-fired plants from being built and reduce domestic demand for coal.

Oregon is on track to shut down its coal-fired power plant in Boardman, but utility companies also buy coal-fired power from other states.

Eugene attorney, Charlie Tebbutt, working on behalf of the Sierra Club reached a landmark settlement with a coal mine and power plant in New Mexico in late March. Megan Anderson of Eugene-based Western Environmental Law Center was also an attorney in the case. 

The multimillion dollar settlement seeks to stop ground and surface water contamination that the Sierra Club alleges comes from toxic coal ash waste and other sources at the San Juan Coal Mine and San Juan Generating Station coal-fired power plant operated by the Public Service Company of New Mexico.

Tebbutt says the settlement will call for spending about $8 million on projects to restore the San Juan River basin watershed, control existing pollution sources at the facilities and monitor downstream waterways. 

“The essential goal to of the settlement is top stop the pollution now,” Tebbutt says. He says the settlement seeks not just “a continual pump and treat system,” but “sets out a more in-depth mechanism for getting the problem to away.”

Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign is working to retire coal-burning plants across the U.S., and is also working to stop the coal trains through the Northwest.