Op-Ed by Bruce Silvey, Humboldt Trails Council - Eureka Times Standard
As outlined by The Times-Standard article “Lawmakers Oppose Coal Plan” on (Times-Standard, Sept. 8), and the Lost Coast Outpost article “Aiming to Ship Coal Out of Humboldt Bay, Shadowy Corporation Makes Bid to Take Over NCRA Line” on Sept. 2, there appears to be a serious move to derail the Great Redwood Trail and replace it with toxic coal trains to run down the fragile Eel River Canyon to a terminal at Humboldt Bay. The goal is to ship millions of tons of this climate change-inducing product to Asia where it can be burned for energy before all the coal-fired plants are finally shut down.

To capture these eleventh-hour profits, a new railroad associated with the coal companies in Utah, Montana, and Wyoming plan to rebuild the dilapidated NCRA line for substantially less than the $2.4 billion NCRA estimates it will cost. Since private railroads can preempt state laws, they would not need to meet any of California’s environmental laws as they rebuild collapsed tunnels and washed out track along the unstable Eel River Canyon, or around Humboldt Bay.  According to the documents filed by their law firm with the Surface Transportation Board, they  have $1.2 billion in funding behind them, and they expect to have “high-volume shipments”.

Why Humboldt Bay, which would require major dredging and retrofitting to accommodate a bulk transfer terminal to load coal on huge ships? These same coal shipments have been blocked by six ports on the west coast between Coos Bay, Oregon and Bellingham, Washington. Their last appeal was against the Washington State Department of Ecology permit denial for an export dock on the grounds that it would cause “irreparable and unavoidable”  harm to the environment. The appeal of this denial was just dismissed by the US Supreme Court in June of this year.

A June 28 news release by the Washington Environmental Council announcing this Supreme Court Decision states “Multiple courts at the state and federal levels have now held that Washington State was within its rights to protect citizens from elevated levels of air and water pollution that would have come with transporting coal through its communities.” It further credited this accomplishment to “an unprecedented coalition of tribal nations, health, environmental, faith and community groups from across the Pacific Northwest and High Plains.”

The loss of the Great Redwood Trail would be a lost opportunity for the entire North Coast, including economic, environmental and health improvements. Coal on the other hand does “unavoidable and irreparable” harm to our environment, health and way of life. Imagine for a moment 100-car coal trains rumbling down the middle of First Street in Old Town Eureka multiple times a day, or conveyer belts dropping loose coal into bulk transport ships with carcinogenic coal dust in the air and on the water.

There is already a coalition of organizations pulling together that include environmental, transportation, trail and community groups. If you belong to an organization that can join in, please see that they do. The City of Oakland, California, passed an ordinance to prohibit the storage and handling of coal to block a coal terminal on their shore.

You can help advocate with the county, cities, and Harbor District to direct their legal staff to research ordinances or regulations that can block toxic coal before there is even a specific proposal, AND before they grab the Eel River Canyon out from under the NCRA. Visit links at https://humtrails.org to see other actions you can take to help stop this toxic coal rush.
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