Coal Train Ban Is Gaining Steam in Bellingham

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Coal is anything but king in Bellingham, though it sure is the talk of the town these days. A new citizens group has sprung to life, a political action committee called No Coal!, which is bound and determined to ban coal trains from the largest city in Whatcom County.

Here's the deal: There are big plans in the making by SSA Marine to build a huge coal shipping terminal at Cherry Point and ship the product to China. This of course would mean more coal trains passing through the city's Gateway Pacific Terminal, maybe as many as 18 to 20 round-trip trains per day rolling through the center of town.

"Here we are shutting down the last coal-fired plant in the state, and now we're going to ship this air polluting stuff oversees!" fumes Rick Dubrow, one of the main organizers of the committee. "That's a little bit insane, don't you think? What we're trying to show is that our community's interests are more important than that of out-of-state corporations."

Dubrow is acutely aware of the legal odds that are stacked against No Coal! By far the greatest obstacle to overcome is the fact that federal government regulates interstate rail and the BNSF Railway Co. has the legal right of way through the city of 80,000 residents.

Coal is a dirty business -- the mining, the handling and finally the burning of it. That's a key reason the state's last remaining coal-fired plant, owned by Canada-based TransAlta, will shut down one of two boilers at the end of the decade and phase out all coal-burning by 2025.

Dubrow says the Bellingham group is in part modeling its anti-coal efforts after the work done by the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund, which successfully won its battle with the city council in Pittsburgh, Pa., in 2010, to ban fracking for natural gas within the city limits.

"We just want our community to have the same rights as the railroads and other corporate giants," says Debrow.

 
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