In the cases of the spotted owl and Keystone, environmentalists had convenient federal levers to pull (the Endangered Species Act in the former and the need for presidential signoff in the latter). But in the case of coal the appeal has of necessity been local, and not just in Oregon and Washington. A recent trip to Montana revealed that the local papers are filled with similar stories about the hazards of coal dust and increased train traffic. Proposals to restrict coal train traffic are on local government agendas.
And 350.org will be there to rally the troops. In an email announcing plans for “very civil disobedience” in Montana, 350.org declares that “[t]he coal industry poisons everything and everyone it touches from mine communities sickened by runoff, to rail lines that blow 5 pounds of toxic coal dust per mile, to everyone affected by smog, mercury and carbon when it’s burned.” No mention of climate change, the combating of which is their declared mission.
The Bozeman Daily Chronicle reported last month that the owner of a Bozeman company located adjacent to the tracks testified to local authorities that his business experienced no significant effects from the 15 coal trains that now pass by every day. But it’s not clear anyone is listening to those who actually live and work by the tracks, or whose jobs depend on coal mining, transport and use. Like the loggers and mill workers sacrificed to severely curtailed logging in the name of protecting spotted owls (so far unsuccessfully), coal miners, railroad and port employees and the public services made possible by tax revenues from a booming coal industry could matter little in the face of fervent appeals to guard against demon coal dust.
Jim Huffman is the dean emeritus of Lewis & Clark Law School, the co-founder of Northwest Free Press and a member of the Hoover Institution’s De Nault Task Force on Property Rights, Freedom and Prosperity.