our energy program focuses on climate change, fossil fuels, and sustainability
The Powder River Basin in Eastern Montana and Wyoming holds billions of tons of coal owned or leased by Arch Coal, Peabody Energy, and others. These companies push for new coastal terminals to be built in Washington to handle increasing shipments, primarily bound for China. These projects would add over 8,000 coal trains per year on Washington State’s rail system - all of which would be hauled right through downtown Spokane. Those who live along the rail lines in Montana, Idaho, Oregon, and Washington share valid concerns about their effect on hidden costs to health, safety, and the environment.
Railroad engines burn diesel. The documented health effects of diesel emissions include chronic heart disease, lung disease, and asthma. The very young and elderly are most affected; and cancer is also a risk. In addition, according to the rail industry, 500 pounds or more of coal dust per car is lost in transit. This can destabilize rail beds and contribute to derailments.
The Lands Council is part of a large, region-wide alliance called the Power Past Coal Coalition. This groups works to stop the coal export in Washington and Oregon. The work we have done in Eastern WA has contributed to the decrease of coal exports. We owe this success to the support of thousands of activists in the Northwest.
The Northwest is a hot spot for oil transport due to the fracking of the Bakken oil shales in North Dakota and tar sands oil from Canada.
Both Bakken and tar sands oil have higher volatility than other forms of crude oil. Since the Bakken oil explosions in Lac Megantic, Quebec, on July 6, 2013, more than a dozen more trains have exploded and a few of those derailments have spilled into rivers like the Mississippi and the Kalamazoo Rivers.
If new, proposed oil facilities are built, Spokane’s downtown, the Spokane River, and outlying communities like Cheney and Spokane Valley will be at a greater risk for a derailment and oil train explosions. Along with greater risk of major accidents, the huge potential increase in oil trains means a big jump in rail traffic, more delays at rail crossings, slower emergency response times, more diesel fume pollution and taxpayer costs to pay for infrastructure to make way for all those trains.
If all proposed oil and coal terminals are built in Washington State, it is estimated that many communities along the rail line such as Spokane would see 30 or more loaded oil and coal trains every single day.
The Lands Council is part of a large, region-wide coalition called Stand Up to Oil. This coalition opposes new oil terminals and an increase in oil transport through the Northwest, while working to improve safety measures for oil currently traveling through the region. One step at a time, we stand up to oil using education, action, and dedication.
Most scientists agree that greenhouse gases are causing the Earth to warm. In the Inland Northwest, climate change is demonstrated by lesser snowpack, warmer temperatures, and lower summer precipitation. These three changes pose a threat to forests, wildlife, and aquatic species. In addition, past forest management and wildfire suppression has altered tree species and warmer winters have favored more insect attacks, such as the pine bark beetle.
For our region to survive drought and warmer temperatures, we must increase resiliency in our public forests. The Lands Council is increasing climate-resilient species by working in collaboration with diverse stakeholders. This work and protecting old growth forests provides a stronger habitat, if species are forced to move northward due to drought and warming. Also, we are using beavers to store more water – which increases aquatic resiliency, creates cooler temperatures, and expands aquatic habitat.
Changes in energy usage in the U.S. have also created a problem for our region as more coal and oil are mined in Montana, Wyoming, and North Dakota and transported by rail to the Pacific Coast. This not only increases greenhouse gases, but oil trains also pose a real and significant threat to the safety of our communities, due to their explosive potential.
To improve our safety and slow the pace of these trains through our region, we must increase public awareness of the dangers oil trains and engage citizens to challenge new coal and oil facilities. These efforts will also ultimately delay the export of coal and oil – the products that already fuel and increase in greenhouse gases.