The fight over transporting coal is heating up not only in Eugene, which faces the possibility of coal trains coming through town, but in Washington, D.C., as well. “The Republicans were in full election mode,” Congressman Peter DeFazio says of the recent House vote on the “Stop the War on Coal” bill.
The dramatically named bill is actually a collection of bills, four that have already been passed, and a new one that DeFazio says strips the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from being able to put new regulations on the coal industry and keeps the federal government from regulating coal mining on public lands. DeFazio says he does not expect Stop the War on Coal to pass in the Senate.
DeFazio, who was criticized over the summer for not opposing proposed coal exports through Oregon, attempted to introduce an amendment to the House bill that he calls a “reasonable amendment to an unreasonable bill.” The amendment would have directed the EPA to do a study and report back in six months on coal dust and ways to mitigate the dust such as surfactants, covered cars or even whether or not coal dust is even a problem. The amendment, which the congressman says got 169 votes, seven of them Republican, was voted down.
DeFazio says the Burlington Northern Santa Fe rail company has initiated an action because the company alleges coal dust, particularly in early stages of transport, affects the rail bed as it fills in the ballast rocks under the tracks, which then can’t shed water, destabilizing the tracks and leading to derailments. However, because the BNSF railroad is in litigation, the company told DeFazio its studies on coal dust are proprietary, and it won’t release them.
“Maybe it’s time for the government to do a study and determine the extent of the possible effects on public health and on the safety of the rail systems,” DeFazio says. “If you are going to allow mining and transport, you should have knowledge of the impacts and extent of fugitive coal dust emissions.”
He says another amendment he proposed that would have made clear the Stop the War on Coal bill was stripping government agencies, such as the Surface Transportation Board, of their ability to regulate coal was not allowed to be voted on at all.
Coal trains headed for a proposed Port of Coos Bay coal export terminal would pass through Eugene and Lane County on their way to the coast. At 5:30 pm Oct. 8, the Eugene City Council will hear both from coal opponents as well as those in favor of the trains at the Bascom/Tykeson Room of the downtown Public Library.