A plan by some of the globe's biggest mining companies to ship hundreds of millions of tons of coal by rail through Idaho's panhandle is still in its infancy, but that's not stopping activists from raising a ruckus.
Members of Moscow-based Wild Idaho Rising Tide joined Occupy Spokane Nov. 17 to take their opposition to the Idaho panhandle town of Sandpoint, where many of the shipments would roll through on a journey from Montana to the Pacific Coast. The coal would ultimately be loaded onto ships bound for China or India.
According to WIRT organizer Helen Yost, communities like Sandpoint and Spokane are being left out of the process.
"[Public hearings in Spokane, Wash.] are the closest hearings for folks who live in Idaho and Montana, and we feel like our concerns are being ignored," said Yost. "How legitimate is the scoping process if they're not even considering input from two of the affected states?"
According to opponents, the coal-shipments' effects could be dire.
No. 1, there's the sheer number of trains that would be running through small communities like Sandpoint: between 40 and 50 additional trains--some as long as a mile-and-a-half--could be added to the regional rail system each day. In Sandpoint, where as many as 70 trains currently chug through daily, that means congestion, increased diesel emissions and increased risk of derailment.
No. 2, communities along the line are concerned that coal dust blowing off the uncovered cars poses a human health risk. A consortium of doctors in western Washington concluded that those living along current coal shipment lines experience elevated health problems, including respiratory illness.
Finally, opponents are rankled by the idea of ramping up coal production at a time when climate-change worries have convinced nations around the world to cut back on using fossil fuels.
Meeting Asia's demand for coal could mean billions of dollars in profits for energy firms like Arch Coal and Peabody Energy, owned by Warren Buffett, but for those living along the line, the benefits seem scant when compared with the potential costs.
"We're going to get all the crap and none of the money," said Dave Bilsland of Occupy Spokane. "Show me one job, outside of medical, that'll be created. It just doesn't make sense to ship our pollutants overseas."
WIRT activist Cass Davis, who carpooled from Moscow, agreed.
"I grew up in the Silver Valley, and I was lead-poisoned pretty good as a child," he said. "It's never wise to trade your children's futures and environment for jobs. When we start putting jobs and the economy ahead of the environment and our children, we're fools."