Salem will be quite a different place if we allow four coal trains a day to come rumbling through our town.
By now most of us have heard that coal companies want to ship coal to Asia from six Pacific Northwest ports, including Coos Bay. The trip to Coos Bay would bring coal right down the track through Salem.
Now I know Salem is a town long-accustomed to waiting for trains to pass through. But I’m concerned about the new wait we’re talking about. While the Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) used to have a rule requiring that trains must clear a crossing within ten minutes, ODOT is pre-empted by the federal government. And there are no federal regulations that limit train crossing blockage.
So 1.5-mile-long coal trains will slow the response time of Salem fire, police and ambulances.
Four times a day.
Then there’s the coal dust from each of those coal cars. Coal dust particles can be smaller than a single human red blood cell. And they may cause irreversible lung disease. To ship the quantities of coal anticipated at Coos Bay would require two loaded trains, each with 135 open-top gondola coal cars. Even if the cars were sprayed with a coating called a “surfactant” (that reduces dust by 85%) each train would still give off at least 10,000 pounds of fugitive coal dust.
Did you know that coal burned for energy is by far the largest source of air pollution in the United States? And even if cheap U.S. coal is burned in Asia, health effects will be felt in Oregon. The fact is that already, one-fifth of the mercury in the Willamette River comes from Asia.
Selling cheap coal to Asian countries also helps them undercut the U.S. manufacturing sector. In that way, far from creating jobs, it costs jobs. Exporting coal from Coos Bay won’t create a significant number of jobs in Salem and it puts small businesses located near the tracks at risk. There is a nursery, a winery, restaurants, and even a soy sauce factory close to the tracks where coal dust will be released every day. I don’t like what that does to our town.
I’m a recent member of the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign in Salem. I hope you will join us.
Evan White is retired from a 27-year career with the Oregon Public Utility Commission. He loves living in Salem, and is active in a number of volunteer activities. These include board membership in the Sunnyslope Neighborhood Asssociation, and the AARP TaxAide program,where he helps seniors and low-income persons with their taxes.