Seattle mayor vows to fight coal exports, due to rail impacts to his city

Seattle, Wash., Mayor Mike McGinn said in an Aug. 16 statement that studies have shown that the number of coal trains that would move through the city to planned new coal export terminal facilities on the Pacific Coast is unacceptable.

Last year the Department of Transportation worked with engineers at Parametrix to understand how Seattle traffic would be impacted by the proposal to expand coal train operations, McGinn said. The finding indicated that running as many as 18 coal trains per day through Seattle, each over a mile long, would significantly increase vehicle traffic delays. Railroad crossings would be blocked an additional one to three hours each day.

“More coal trains would separate our waterfront from the rest of the City, damaging valuable industrial, maritime, and tourism businesses that require access to and from the waterfront in order to perform their work,” McGinn said.

McGinn said he asked the Office of Economic Development (OED) to commission a study on the economic impacts of coal trains in the city, with particular focus on waterfront and industrial businesses. OED contracted with Community Attributes, a local firm specializing in economic analysis, to perform this analysis. That report highlights a number of significant and concerning impacts to the Seattle’s residents and businesses, he said.

Impacts to waterfront businesses are not quantified but significant, the mayor said. Noise, vibrations, and crossing delays would disrupt businesses near train crossings, particularly hospitality and tourism businesses including hotels, restaurants, and waterfront attractions.

“Environmental and health impacts associated with greenhouse gas emissions, coal dust and increased diesel exhaust are also not quantified but significant,” McGinn said.

Eric de Place at Sightline Institute, who provided peer review of the Community Attributes report, also provided a look at the potential economic impacts of coal trains. Sightline believes that Community Attributes overstates the potential increase in jobs and revenues in Seattle and understates the taxpayer cost of major infrastructure improvements that would be needed to mitigate coal train impacts, McGinn said.

“It is clear that from both of these perspectives that Seattle businesses, residents, and property owners would face unacceptable impacts if coal export facilities are built in the Northwest,” said McGinn. “Beyond Seattle, it’s critically important that we continue to educate ourselves and others on the global implications of burning coal – a major contributor to local air pollution and worldwide climate change through the effects of greenhouse gasses. I will continue to work with my colleagues in the Leadership Alliance Against Coal to oppose coal terminals and coal trains in the Northwest. As a part of this effort, we will coordinate with the State Department of Ecology to ensure that the findings of Seattle’s traffic and economic impact studies are incorporated into the environmental analyses required for these proposed terminals.”

About a half dozen coal export terminals have been proposed in recent years in Washington and Oregon to take advantage of expected higher demand for export coal around the Pacific Rim. Some of those projects have fallen by the wayside lately, in part due to the economics of a current protracted coal market slump, and in part due to entrenched environmental opposition.

About Barry Cassell 20414 Articles
Barry Cassell is Chief Analyst for GenerationHub covering coal and emission controls issues, projects and policy. He has covered the coal and power generation industry for more than 24 years, beginning in November 2011 at GenerationHub and prior to that as editor of SNL Energy’s Coal Report. He was formerly with Coal Outlook for 15 years as the publication’s editor and contributing writer, and prior to that he was editor of Coal & Synfuels Technology and associate editor of The Energy Report. He has a bachelor’s degree from Central Michigan University.