At this point, agencies considering the effects of coal train traffic in Montana due to a proposed port in Washington do not plan to visit cities in Montana as part of their review, according to the Washington Department of Ecology.
However, analysts plan to review existing studies of the impacts of rail traffic in Montana, and they also plan to scrutinize rail communities of representative sizes in Washington state, said Josh Baldi, regional director for the Washington Department of Ecology. On Thursday, Baldi also said the process is in its early stages and could change along the way as consultants develop methodologies.
Earlier this week, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Washington Department of Ecology and Whatcom County announced that their environmental assessment of the proposed coal export terminal in Cherry Point, Wash., would take impacts in Montana into account. Because of its scope, the draft environmental impact statement likely will take two years, according to the Department of Ecology.
“The fact is, this is a very large-scale, new export terminal that has far-reaching impacts,” Baldi said. “And so we believe that the environmental review is commensurate with potential impacts.”
If the Cherry Point terminal is built, the Northern Plains Research Council estimates it would result in up to 18 coal trains per day traveling through Washington, Montana and Idaho. The council, a conservation and agriculture group based in Billings, estimates it would be the largest facility in North America and export up to 48 million metric tons of coal per year to Asia.
Missoula City Councilman Dave Strohmaier has been among the community leaders calling for a thorough assessment of the impacts of increased traffic in Montana. In a news release from the council, he said coal exports “take a toll on our state’s health and infrastructure.”
“We won’t give up until we make sure our communities aren’t paying the costs of coal export,” Strohmaier said.
The Montana Coal Council could not be reached for comment late Thursday afternoon. However, the Montana Coal Council has earlier estimated that each coal train represents a contribution of $30,000 in state, federal and other taxes.