Elected officials are introducing resolutions and even a statehouse bill opposing a mysterious proposal to ship coal up to Humboldt Bay on both existing and defunct rail lines. The flurry of measures came even though no new information has surfaced about who is behind the coal shipping proposal, which came to light in late August through filings with the U.S. Surface Transportation Board, a federal agency that oversees freight rail shipping. U.S. Rep. Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael, and State Sen. Mike McGuire, D-Healdsburg, have said the newly created North Coast Rail Company intends to ship coal from Wyoming and Montana’s Powder River Basin by rail for ultimate international export out of Humboldt Bay.

McGuire estimated the North Coast could one day see as many as four trainloads of coal, each a hundred cars long, per day, with four empty trainloads returning. He reached the estimate using current commodity prices to calculate how much coal a company would have to ship to meet a minimum return on investment that would be demanded by federal railroad regulators before they would approve such a venture, he said.

With coal declining as a global energy source and a steep investment required, officials put the minimum cost to rebuild just the rail line higher than $2 billion. That does not include the cost to build out a coal shipping port in Humboldt Bay. It also doesn’t include the expense of fighting an extended legal and public relations battle in a region firmly opposed to coal and dedicated to climate change mitigation politically.

Those factors led at least one energy industry expert to say the prospect was economically unwieldy.

“It’s the longest of long shots,” said Seth Feaster, an analyst at the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis.

A wave of resolutions by local governing bodies oppose the proposal. The Transportation Authority of Marin passed a resolution against the idea on Sept. 23. The Novato City Council and the Marin County Board of Supervisors are set to consider similar resolutions in coming weeks. The Mendocino Board of Supervisors passed a resolution in opposition on Sept. 15, as did the Ukiah City Council.

Members of the Windsor Town Council, the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors and Santa Rosa City Council all told The Press Democrat this week they would be bringing their own proposals, as elected members of bodies up and down the SMART line rush to indicate their opposition to even the slightest possibility of long trains of coal chugging through the North Bay.

“There is just no way in hell that citizens of Sonoma County, with it going through the Eel River Canyon and it being coal, with long trains through the heart of our communities all for an outdated carbon fuel source … I just can’t imagine anyone being supportive of this idea,” Sonoma County Supervisor David Rabbitt, the current chair of the SMART board of directors, said Friday.

As the nation and much of the world continues to move away from coal-fired electricity, a shift driven by climate change concerns and the rise of renewable energy and domestically by cheap natural gas, investors are increasingly shy about backing coal schemes, analysts say. The fact that the shipping project here would take several years at a minimum to get off the ground only adds to the challenge.

“These are very speculative adventures, and if there was a good market case to do this you would see more development than there has been and you would see significant exports out of Vancouver, and you just don’t,” Godby said.

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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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State Sen. Mike McGuire introduced new legislation to block a proposal to restore the defunct North Coast railroad in an attempt to export coal overseas from Montana, Utah and Wyoming through the Port of Humboldt Bay.
McGuire called the proposal “one of the largest environmental threats the North Coast has seen in decades.”

McGuire said, "This critical bill will ban any state funding from being invested to improve the rail line for coal shipments north of Willits and it bans any state funding to build out a potential coal storage terminal at the Port of Humboldt. No way, no how are we going to let this happen.”

SB 307 would “prohibit spending state monies for any new bulk coal terminal project, as defined, within the County of Humboldt,” according to the text of the bill. “California should do everything it can to put a stop to anything that supports the use of coal, and tampering with the plans for this trail, which will go through some beautiful North Coast country, is not welcomed,” said Assemblymember Jim Wood (D-Santa Rosa).“California should do everything it can to put a stop to anything that supports the use of coal, and tampering with the plans for this trail, which will go through some beautiful North Coast country, is not welcomed,” said Assemblymember Jim Wood (D-Santa Rosa).
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After discussing a plan by a newly formed Wyoming corporation to transport coal through the Eel River Canyon on long-abandoned and crumbling railroad infrastructure, the Ukiah City Council Wednesday approved moving forward with the last phase of a public trail still being built on the short section of tracks inside the city limits.

“We’re the first official segment of the Great Redwood Trail, which we’re kind of proud of,” Deputy City Manager Shannon Riley told the City Council during its Sept. 15 meeting, referring to State Sen. Mike McGuire’s plan to turn the railroad tracks into a multi-use trail that stretches from the San Francisco Bay to Humboldt Bay.

However, Riley said, “suddenly a corporation was formed in Wyoming under the name ‘the North Coast Railroad Company’ with an application that says they have over a billion dollars in funding and they’re going to revitalize the tracks and use them (likely) to transport coal that is mined in the Midwest and shipped somehow to the Bay Area, then put on trains and transported to Humboldt Bay, where it would be put on large barges and shipped to Asia. This was a surprise to many people, and there are so many unanswered questions. There is no public information about who the principals of this LLC are, and there is no proof of their financial backing.”

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Guest Editorial to the Eureka Times Standard
by Donna Roper, Cindy Plank and Sharolyn Hutton, representing LWV of Sonoma, Mendocino, and Humboldt Counties
Dear Surface Transportation Board Members:

This is a joint letter from the League of Women Voters of Humboldt County, League of Women Voters of Mendocino County, and the League of Women Voters of Sonoma County in opposition to the transportation of coal through northern California and the bay area by train.

It has been widely reported and corroborated that the North Coast Rail Company LLC is intending to use the northern California railroad to transport coal mined in the Rocky Mountains and intends to transport this coal across the state of California to Marin County, and then haul it north through Sonoma, Mendocino, Trinity, and Humboldt counties to the port of Humboldt.

The League of Women Voters wishes to express our strong opposition to the request of North Coast Railroad Co., LLC (NCRCo) to oppose the North Coast Railroad Authority’s (NCRA) request for abandonment of certain sections of the long unused portions of the rail line from Willits to Humboldt County. Sections of the rail line have been rendered inoperable for safety reasons.

Given that the primary reason that the North Coast Railroad Co., LLC opposes this abandonment exemption is to allow the transport of coal to the Port of Humboldt Bay for transport to Asian markets, and that the burning of coal is a major contributor to global warming, it is unconscionable that we ship our coal to other countries to contribute to global warming.

Further, the railroad crosses environmentally sensitive areas, specifically two rivers that supply drinking water to thousands. The land along parts of the area is unstable and subject to landslides. A far better use of this abandoned rail bed is the further development of the Great Redwood Trail.

We urgently request that the STB deny the North Coast Railroad Co., LLC request to oppose North Coast Railroad Authority’s abandonment exemption.