SPOKANE, Wash. - The Washington State Department of Ecology announced it would be doing extensive research on the proposed coal port in Longview, which will impact Spokane, where many of the coal trains will pass through on the way to the coast.
If approved, the Longview coal port would be one of the largest in the nation, which is why the Department of Ecology study will address many of the questions that have made the Longview port so controversial.
"The Department of Ecology will be doing a great, thorough review of all the threats that will potentially be caused to our community of this project were to be developed," Jace Bylengea with the Sierra Club said.
The Sierra Club opposes the coal train project, which he says will have a negative impact on Spokane's environment and the health of the people who live here.
"Another threat to our communities is coal dust that falls off trains. BNSF (Burlington Northern Santa Fe) has said in the past that up to 500 pounds per car on this trip falls off a train. You need to think about not car but these trains are 110 cars long," Bylengea said.
Bylengea says that fall off gets into our waterways like the Spokane River, and it causes a lot of costly wear and tear on the train tracks.
"With all of the environmental regulations they will have to deal with, to pay for the true costs of these projects they aren't going to be financially viable," he said.
Supporters of the project, however, point to the positive boost in our local economy.
"We have historically been a transshipment community," Greater Spokane Inc. CEO Rich Hadley said.
Hadley said critics aren't seeing the big picture.
"If we pull ourselves out of the international marketplace then it hurts our economy, it hurts our jobs and it means that we're not going to be as vital of a community," he said.
Hadley also said the coal that is shipped through Wyoming and Montana is some of the cleanest in the nation, and the increasing number of trains rolling through Spokane shouldn't pose a safety problem.
"The sheriff has said it isn't going to be a problem. The clean air agency has said the shipment of coal through here because of the way they take care of it isn't an air pollution problem," he said.
So how many additional trains will roll through Spokane, if the project's approved? It depends on who you ask. The Sierra Club said it could mean an additional 60 trains per day. A BNSF spokesman couldn't provide a specific number but said it would be far fewer than the 60 the Sierra Club claimed.