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Stopping Dirty Coal in its Tracks

The Climate Justice league is teaming up to stop coal trains from coming through Eugene. Photo by Trask Bedortha.
The Climate Justice league is teaming up to stop coal trains from coming through Eugene. Photo by Trask Bedortha.

Eugene doesn’t have to let dirty coal trains come through town wafting lung-clogging dust in their wake, according to a coalition of environmental and environmental justice groups. Beyond Toxics, No Coal Eugene and the UO’s Climate Justice League have teamed up to craft a ballot measure that would buck federal and state law to stand up against Big Coal.

The proposed November ballot measure “creates a city ordinance that empowers the local authorities to stop coal trains from coming through Eugene,” says Zach Stark-MacMillan of No Coal Eugene. 

“I think of it as a citywide civil disobedience saying the state and federal government don’t have the final say over local communities. We should have the final say over what comes through our town,” Stark-MacMillan says.

A draft of the proposed ordinance calls it the “Eugene Community Bill of Rights” and cites the Declaration of Independence: “whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new government.” It says the U.S. and the state have failed to protect the public trust so “the people of Eugene find it necessary to act on their own behalf.” 

The draft ordinance calls the “transportation of coal through the municipality” a violation of the right of the residents and ecosystems of Eugene to a healthy, natural climate.

Since corporations use “corporate ‘powers’ and ‘rights’ to overturn community lawmaking focused on building sustainability,” the draft says, this ordinance removes those powers and rights from those corporations to ensure that the powers and rights of the community are superior to those of the corporations that extract, distribute and use coal.

“Open-car coal trains pose a serious threat to our community,” says Lisa Arkin of Beyond Toxics. “We don’t intend to let black coal dust pollute the air and water throughout the Willamette Valley and our coastal communities.”

Stark-MacMillan says in addition to the health concerns that “open-bed coal cars releasing literally tons of coal dust into the air around Eugene” create, the coalition is concerned with the climate-changing effects of burning coal and with the disruption that mile-long coal trains could cause local businesses as they chug through town.

Next month the Eugene Sustainability Commission plans to debate asking the City Council to oppose coal trains. 

Arkin says signature gathering for the ordinance will start soon. A training on community rights ordinances will be led by Kai Huschke from the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund at 7:30 pm Wednesday, April 4, at the Growers Market and 7 pm Thursday, April 5 in Lillis 112 on the UO campus. More information can be found at BeyondToxics.org and NoCoalEugene.org