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  • This article by Betsy Marston originally appeared in the Nov 29, 2012 issue of High Country News.
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Topic: Culture & Communities     Department: Heard Around the West     Comments: 0

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China and coal

News: Nov 29, 2012
by Betsy Marston

THE WEST

Now that China's decided to build one coal-fired power plant every week, corporations like Goldman Sachs have become highly interested in helping the country find black rocks to burn. The Powder River Basin of Wyoming and Montana produces what seems an inexhaustible amount, but there's a hitch (isn't there always?): The coal would have to travel hundreds of miles on trains more than 100-railcars long across wide-open Western landscapes and through congested towns. A handful of towns on the Pacific Coast are being considered for the construction of a new port, and that's created another hitch: If prime candidate Bellingham, Wash., north of Seattle, is chosen, Seattle will be very unhappy. The coal trains would almost certainly lumber through the city before going up the coast, creating additional traffic jams for commuters. A headline from The Stranger sums it up: "Coal trains could delay downtown, SoDo traffic by one to three hours daily." At a press conference, Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn said the coal trains would "create a wall along our waterfront" leading to "more frustration, more bikers, drivers and pedestrians 'shooting the gap' to get across, which means the potential for more accidents." The consulting firm Parametrix predicted that 10-18 coal trains each day would move through Seattle, with each train delaying traffic by roughly five minutes, and delays occurring at unpredictable times 24 hours a day. Seattle City Council member Mike O'Brien summed up the impacts of a major new port and increased rail traffic as "all negative" for the city. "If a project like this goes forward," he added, "our progress (to become carbon neutral by 2050) goes down the drain." Port developers have said that the project's impacts, including coal dust pollution and derailments, will be fully reviewed in order to meet high environmental standards, reports Businessweek.

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