In Ballard, a train of people against trains of coal

A crowd of protesters gathered at Golden Gardens Park on Sunday, Feb. 17 to cheer on a greener, cleaner Puget Sound and hiss at the proposed coal-train terminal near Bellingham.

Donning bright red anti-coal shirts and wielding neon, “No Coal Exports” signs, hundreds from Ballard to Shoreline and beyond applauded the words of featured speaker Mayor Mike McGinn before marching about a mile along the Burke Gilman Trail toward Ray’s Boathouse.

According to coal opponents, the fear of coal dust and mercury pollution, increased street traffic, climate disruption and ocean acidification rolls over into our Ballard’s neighborhoods, affecting areas like Golden Gardens and children-favorite Carkeek Park. At the rally, any possible pro-terminal arguments — such as boosted trade opportunities and an expanded job market — were drowned out by anti-coal sentiment.

“Don’t be fooled by the jobs argument,” said McGinn in his speech. “We know how to create jobs –- the clean and sustainable way.”

The rally date was set to coincide with the march in Washington, D.C., protesting the case for the Keystone XL pipeline. The pipeline would carry Canadian oil-sands crude to refineries in the Gulf of Mexico.

“The time for talking is way, way over,” said Robin Everett, organizing representative for the Sierra Club. “Today in D.C., 35,000 marched to tell Obama to stop talking and start doing. Walk the talk.”

As for the proposed line in the Pacific Northwest, the Cherry Point-bound line would carry 150 million tons of coal annually through SoDo, Interbay, Ballard and further before shipping off to China. With the possibility of up to 18 trains, each more than mile long, concerns about traffic, health and the environment were heightened at the rally.

“Whether you’re looking at the extraction of the coal in Montana or the transportation through the states, including here in the Puget Sound, or the burning of coal in China or other Asian countries, it’s just a disaster all the way around,” said Suzanne Pardee, who attended the rally and is a member of the Green Party.

Currently, of the 522 coal-burning power plants in the United States, 139 of them have been retired. The attempts to shut down these plants are rising, hoping more industries will acknowledge coal as an outdated fuel practice, making the shift from a 19th-century energy source to 21st-century progressive, clean-energy option. It’s a dying industry, said Everett, and we shouldn’t be tied down to it.

“We’re subsidizing this dirty industry,” said Everett. “If we stop subsidizing it, it will go away. I want my tax dollars spent on making sure we are educating our children and making sure we have a healthy environment, not helping big coal make profits.”

“We’re just exporting cancer to them,” Pardee added. “I think it’s morally unacceptable that if we think this coal is too dirty to burn here that we think it’s ok to burn somewhere else.”

But for local resident and coal protestor Liz Talley, the coal train concerns hit home when she found out how it would affect her own backyard.

“I was very much aware of watching the trains as they ship through Canada,” Talley said. “Two or three trains every day, and I thought the idea of another nine trains a day is totally unacceptable. The more information I uncovered about it, the more committed I became to making sure it never happens.”

After speaking with environmentalists and other concerned residents, Talley brought the idea of the “walking train” to the Sierra Club, which played out at Sunday’s rally. Through events like these she hopes to create a snowball-effect of local awareness, making enough noise to get the attention of Gov. Jay Inslee and Sen. Maria Cantwell to strengthen the movement against coal trains.

“I think it brings the issue to the dining room table,” she said. “People down at the beach don’t really realize that there are trains full of coal going by. I just don’t think we want to introduce something that is environmentally bad to a vibrant city.”

So far, some efforts for conversation have been made at the local level, said McGinn, insisting he has been in talks with other city mayors, fellow governments and native tribes, looking to band together to create a larger voice on the issue. They all seem to be on the same page: no coal trains.

“We like our quality of life. We like our clean air. We like our clean water,” said McGinn. “We know how to have jobs. We know how to have a clean Puget Sound. And none of it includes coal trains.”

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