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Prospectus Blog Cascadia in the News: When Rail, Coal and Politics Collide

The Cascadia Center was quoted in a Crosscut story about the possible collision of interests in coal production and export, passenger and freight rail, and political interests in Washington state.

Bruce Agnew, who is heading a passenger-train
“modeling” exercise for the Cascadia Project and Whatcom County
governments, says, “It is clear that expansion of coal trains from the
Powder River Basin through Northwest ports to China is their (BNSF)
major strategic initiative.” Agnew is trying to find ways to double or
triple the number of passenger trains scheduled from Seattle to
Vancouver, B.C., but hits serious obstacles north of Everett, where
every train runs on a single track with limited sidings. Of particular
note is the narrow rail bed below the historic and scenic Chuckanut
Drive south of Bellingham, where it would be impossible to construct
additional tracks or sidings. The area is also subject to landslides and
other earth movement. The degree to which coal trains could be
scheduled at night, and implications from such a decision, are unknown.

In his article, Crosscut’s Floyd McKay pieces together the interwoven tapestry that is transportation and energy policy and politics today. “Washington may be on the verge of a classic environmental and political battle,” he writes in his article “How great corporate power shadows Gregoire on coal shipments to China.” The debate has its home in two regional locations — “Cherry Point north of Bellingham” and Longview. And as McKay points out, Washington state isn’t alone in being wrapped up in this issue.

The market for American coal had been threatened by the
closure of domestic coal plants, under fire for their carbon emissions,
but the emergence of powers such as China and India has revived the
coal market. Elisabeth Rosenthal in the New York Times notes
that China now burns half of the 6 billion tons of coal used globally
each year and has become a major importer of coal. “As a result, not
only are the pollutants that developed countries have tried to reduce
finding their way into the atmosphere anyway, but ships chugging halfway
around the globe are spewing still more.” While American laws strictly
limit burning of coal, they are less strict regarding the mining,
transportation, and shipping of coal.

Read the full article here.