It wasn’t long ago that upwards of 12 coal and oil export terminals and refineries  were proposed for development in the Pacific Northwest. The boom in coal extraction from the Powder River Basin in Wyoming and Montana and oil extraction from the Bakken Formation in North Dakota and Montana encouraged investment in facilities along the northwest coast that could export these fossil fuels to buyers  throughout Asia. The long-term problem with these proposals was that they would all facilitate the emission of greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change. In the  short-term, these proposals would also  increase the risks  from  more and more  trains carrying coal and oil through North Idaho. Despite the number of proposals and the money backing them, there’s cause for celebration.

The Trains that Were on Track

Over the past four years more than  half of these proposals have been rejected or suspended!

Derailed coal terminal proposals:

  • Rail America Proposal: Grays Harbor, Washington, August 14, 2012
  • Coos Bay Proposal: Coos Bay, Oregon, April 1, 2013
  • Kinder Morgan Proposal: Port Westward, Oregon, May 9, 2013
  • Gateway Pacific Terminal: Cherry Point, Washington, May 9, 2016
  • Morrow Pacific Project: Port of Morrow, Oregon, October 13, 2016

Derailed oil terminal proposals:

  • Grays Harbor Rail Terminal (US Development Group): Grays Harbor, Washington, November 15, 2015
  • Renewable Energy Group Proposal (previously Imperium): Grays Harbor, Washington, November 30, 2015
  • Riverside Refinery: Vancouver, Washington, February 23, 2016

This past October, Shell suspended indefinitely its plans for the Shell Puget Sound Refinery in  Anacortes, Washington-it would have increased oil trains through north Idaho by six  trains per week.

Why Oil and Coal Terminal Proposals Have Derailed

Many circumstances  factored into the demise of coal and oil export terminal proposals in the Northwest-coal company bankruptcies, the drop in oil prices, impacts on tribal treaty rights-but one of the most dramatic and effective means of overturning these proposals has been you. Communities up and down the rail lines that  carry coal and oil, including communities in north Idaho, spoke up, wrote letters to the editor and attended public hearings,  largely in opposition to  these terminals. And for good reason-more coal and oil trains lead to a laundry list of negative consequences for Idahoans, including: more fossil fuel emissions, greater risk of oil train explosions and contamination of lakes and rivers, slower emergency response times,  and more trains loudly idling on tracks near our homes, among other detriments. The risk from these trains has  been confirmed recently by local fire officials  in Mosier and Spokane, who voiced their own concerns about the immediate danger oil trains pose to human life.

Even with calls for greater safety precautions, derailments, oil spills, and train car explosions continue to occur. The most tragic of these incidents occurred on July 6, 2013 in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, where a train carrying oil derailed and exploded in the city center, killing 47 people. Just last June, another oil train passed through Bonners Ferry and Sandpoint and ultimately derailed in  Mosier, Oregon. Despite these  train cars  exploding and releasing  oil into the Columbia River, thankfully, no one was injured. But these near misses are reminders  that with every train carrying oil or coal, Idaho communities like  Bonners Ferry, Sandpoint, Athol, and Rathdrum are put at risk. And so too are  the Kootenai River, Lake Pend Oreille, and the Rathdrum Aquifer-water we depend on.

Take Action and Keep the Pressure On

Proposals for at least three new fossil fuel facilities in the Pacific Northwest still remain, and we need to make sure our concerns in Idaho are heard. Because these proposals often only account for the impacts and risks to communities in Oregon and Washington, no one will consider  the effects  these trains have on Idaho  communities and natural resources, unless we speak up. Below are three proposals currently being reviewed. These are your best opportunities to participate in the discussion.

1. The proposal that needs your voice the soonest is the Westway Oil Terminal proposal in Grays Harbor, Wash. Should the project be approved, estimates predict that oil trains through North Idaho would increase by 1.25 per day (229 per year). The city of Hoquiam, a small logging and rail town much like those in North Idaho, may  issue (or not) a necessary permit for the proposed terminal. Help encourage Hoquiam’s city council to reject this project and the risk it poses for our communities in North Idaho by writing letters to the editor and/or  commenting here  by this Saturday, Nov 19. You can also send letters to the editor to the  following Washington publications, which have been receptive to letters on this issue:

2.  Potentially processing a whopping 44 million metric tons of coal per year, the next viable proposal would be the largest coal export terminal in the United States, if approved. Known as the Millennium Bulk Coal Terminals, this project planned for  Longview, Wash., would increase coal trains through North Idaho by 16 trains per day (112 per week, 5,824 per year). The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers  released a draft environmental analysis  and is accepting public comments  here until Nov 29.  Let the Corps know that more coal trains crossing our rivers and lakes and blocking our roadways are  not safe for Idaho.

3. Lastly, a proposed oil terminal in Vancouver, Wash., remains viable. The Tesoro Savage Oil Terminal would accept 360,000 barrels of oil per day, resulting in four  more trains through Idaho per day. The Washington state environmental analysis estimates that this project would result in one derailment in Washington state every two years and one oil spill in the Columbia River every twenty years. Moreover, the analysis found that emergency responders believe they are not currently equipped or trained to adequately respond to accidents that might result from this facility. Although the comment period has ended, more than  276,296 comments have already been filed opposing this project! Washington Gov. Inslee has the final say on whether or not the terminal will be developed. Stay tuned.

Other Actions You Can Take

Talk with your elected officials. Encourage your local officials, city councils and emergency responders  to speak up and write their own letters to the editor, explaining why transporting coal and oil through our communities is not worth the risk.

Stay engaged.  With a new presidential administration, we don’t yet know what’s coming down the track in terms of climate change policy and the transport  of coal and oil, but it’s very likely to be different from the last eight years. Stay engaged, keep learning, and keep asking questions. Rest assured, ICL will.