Everyone who breathes will be at risk in Missoula if all the planned coal terminals on the Pacific Coast get built out – and coal train traffic here skyrockets, one doctor said Monday.
“It is a fact that putting that much particulate from coal into our airshed will dramatically increase the diagnoses of asthma, pneumonia, lung and sinus infection, allergies, emphysema, (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) and cancer – lung, esophageal and stomach – and cardiovascular diseases as well,” said Amy Haynes, a Missoula physician who offered prepared remarks at a Missoula City Council meeting. “We know this. Medical research supports this as a fact.”
Haynes was among many members of the public speaking in support of a resolution calling on the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to study the cumulative and local environmental effects of multiple proposed coal export terminals on the Pacific Coast. The council approved the resolution on a 6-3 vote with one abstention and two councilors absent.
“The state of Montana has a long history of being treated and seen as a colony by large corporate interests ... oftentimes leaving us with a mess to clean up for years and sometimes decades to come,” said Councilman Dave Strohmaier, who proposed the resolution.
The measure notes that proposed export terminals in Oregon and Washington have the capacity to handle 150 million tons of coal a year, and that means as many as 60 more trains a day running through Missoula from mines in the Powder River Basin.
Similar to legislation drawn up in other rail line communities, the resolution calls on the Corps of Engineers to conduct a “programmatic environmental impact statement” on the cumulative effects of air pollutants, traffic delays, coal dust, and noise pollution. It also calls for a public hearing in Missoula.
“What we need are clear answers about what’s going to happen in our town, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is certainly in a position to get them for us,” said Councilman Jason Wiener.
Members of the public largely agreed. When Rattlesnake resident Jan Hoem came up to the microphone, she asked if people in the audience would raise their hands if they supported the resolution, and hands shot up from most members of the public in the packed house.
J. Bob Yarger, a Missoula resident and member of the Northern Plains Resource Council, said more train traffic will require more infrastructure, and the review from the Corps of Engineers will allow the city to understand the costs of necessary upgrades.
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“It will also provide the knowledge that can be used to ensure that the taxpayers of Missoula aren’t left footing the bill for these massive, expensive upgrades,” Yarger said.
Some people argue that diesel emissions are just a small part of the pollutants in Missoula, but Sue Spanke said it’s not that small if you’re living next to it. She’s spent time near the railyard in Livingston and witnessed firsthand the negative effects.
“I wouldn’t wish that on anybody. It’s a serious health concern, and we have an ongoing air problem,” Spanke said of Missoula.
Another Missoula resident, Laulette Hansen, said she has always liked trains, but these days, there’s a lot of them going through Missoula. She called for a baseline study of pollution along the rail line.
“I’d like to see these companies pressed, if the coal is going to travel through Montana, to do something to make sure that it doesn’t just stay in Montana in our communities and in our waterways,” Hansen said. “This is very near the Clark Fork River, which I believe we just spent hundreds of millions (of dollars) trying to clean up.”
Councilors Adam Hertz, Dick Haines and Ed Childers voted against the resolution; Mike O’Herron said he abstained because he works for an agency that sees financial benefit from coal extraction in Montana. Childers said he wanted to represent another point of view.
“I will vote against this if for no other reason than this is a democracy, and it certainly should be made aware to everyone that we don’t all speak with one voice all the time,” Childers said. “I think there are some people in this town that like trains.”