A group of federal, state and local agencies are preparing for a two-year study on the health effects from coal dust, greenhouse gas emissions and how increased rail traffic affects people, communities and emergency response systems along the rail line.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Washington's Whatcom County will study the impact at the Gateway Pacific Terminal at Cherry Point. The Washington Department of Ecology will look at the effects of expected increases in rail traffic.
The proposal to export millions of tons of coal through Washington ports to Asia would rely on trains crossing state boundaries from Wyoming and Montana. Proponents of the concept of shipping American coal to Asia say increased exports can add new jobs in areas that are in need of economic development.
But those against the proposal have other concerns. The Sierra Club in June filed a lawsuit in federal court against Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) over coal dust that blows off of trains into the Puget Sound and Washington's rivers, claiming a violation of the U.S. Clean Water Act.
According to the BNSF, they've been conducting studies on the release of coal dust for several years and they work closely with engineering consultants to design monitoring devices for coal dust releases. In addition, the BNSF says coal dust suppression measures have been used extensively in areas outside the Powder River Basin.
The railway sends an average of four full trains every day, or 480 open-top individual rail cars, through Washington carrying coal from mines in Wyoming and Montana.