Businesses want more coal in Washington, neighbors not so sure

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by JOE FRYER / KING 5 News

KING5.com

Posted on July 27, 2012 at 6:48 AM

Updated Friday, Jul 27 at 7:00 AM

SEATTLE -- A new alliance of businesses and groups officially launched an effort Thursday pushing for new terminals that would ship U.S. coal overseas, increasing the number of coal trains running through Washington. 

The Alliance for Northwest Jobs and Exports started running TV ads Thursday.

"It can mean thousands of jobs, it can mean millions of dollars for the region," said Lauri Hennesseey, spokesperson for the alliance.

The group is also confident that studies will show no significant issues with coal dust. 

"We have a high level of confidence that it'll come through with flying colors," said Bob Watters of SSA Marine, which is looking to build a terminal north of Bellingham.

Many people who live along the tracks are concerned about seeing more trains. Heinz Streng of Shoreline, who has lived along the tracks for nine years, said the number of trains has increased over the years. 

"You move near an airport, you expect airplanes, but we didn't expect the increase that we have so many trains," he said.  "When a train comes by, you cannot have a conversation. It's so noisy."

Environmental groups oppose plans increasing the coal trains, afraid it would have a negative impact on air quality.

Two University of Washington professors and their students sampled the air above train tracks in Shoreline Thursday night.  They're testing the air from every train, including freight and passenger trains, to see if coal trains are any different. 

"Really there's not much study about coal dust coming off of trains," said Dan Jaffe, an atmospheric chemist.  "We're really trying to understand what kind of exposure those who live near the tracks would have if we see a very large increase in the number of coal trains."

After a two-hour wait Thursday, a long coal train finally came through.  They noticed spikes in the particulates for both the coal train and non-coal trains.  They will need to test many more trains and dig deeper into the data to see if they can reach any conclusions. 

Government agencies will lead an extensive study, which is expected to last at least two years.  They will explore several aspects of the plan to build more terminals and increase the number of coal trains, including the impact on air quality and traffic. 

The public will have an opportunity to comment this fall on areas that should be explored during the environmental study.

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