Today, Congressman Jim McDermott (D-WA) introduced "The True Cost of Coal Act of 2012" to address the growing concern over proposals that would bring nearly 175 million tons of coal through the Pacific Northwest by rail. This coal, all of which is intended for export to foreign markets, would provide little benefit to Washington or Oregon, while generating a significant amount of noise, environmental pollution, traffic congestion and public health risks for the cities and communities they are traveling through. McDermott's legislation would incorporate these impacts into the cost of coal so that the companies, not the taxpayers, are responsible for paying for the costs of the negative impacts they produce. One of the proposed rail routes goes through the populated cities of Longview, Seattle, Edmonds, Everett, Ferndale and all points in between.
"I'm opposed to these coal trains traveling through the heart of Seattle and the Northwest altogether. As we continue to push for strong cumulative environmental impact reviews of these proposals, we also need to be thinking about how we would handle the true costs this coal would have on the Northwest," said Congressman McDermott. "If the plan is approved, we're talking about a 1.5 mile-long train packed with coal traveling thousands of times a year next to waterfronts and through cities along the Puget Sound -- each train spewing up to 500 pounds of toxic coal dust into the environment while increasing traffic on already congested rail tracks. If they get the permits to ship this coal through the Puget Sound area, the railroad and mining companies must pay for the increased costs to our communities and infrastructure, and that is what I'm trying to do here."
McDermott's bill, "The True Cost of Coal Act," would require rail companies to suppress coal dust by covering or spraying freight rail cars carrying coal -- coal trains release coal dust into the air, which harms the environment, degrades air quality and exposes nearby communities to significant health risks. The bill also imposes a $10 per ton tax on all extracted coal, and money generated from that tax would go into a newly created fund expressly intended to help states and localities address the adverse effects of transporting coal. This is a nominal tax compared to the average sale price of U.S. Coal Exports, which was $148.56 per ton in 2011 according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.
"To ensure that taxpayers aren't saddled with the additional costs of dealing with these coal trains, this small tax could generate an estimated $115 billion over 10 years for affected states," said McDermott who is a senior member of the Ways and Means Committee -- the U.S. House's tax-writing committee. "Keep in mind, if the coal export proposals are approved, Washington and Oregon could see up 175 million tons of coal transported through the two states by 2022 -- currently Washington exports about 5 million tons. This huge increase will create enormous problems that states and localities will have to pay for with higher taxes, unless my bill or something similar to it is enacted into law."
To date, the following Washington State city councils have passed official resolutions expressing concern about the adverse impacts of the coal export trains and/or outright opposition to the coal export proposals: Seattle, Edmonds, Spokane, Marysville, Camas, Stevenson and Washougal.
In May of 2012, McDermott and Congressman Adam Smith (D-WA) sent a letter to the Army Corps expressing concern about the adverse impacts of the coal trains and requested a cumulative environmental impact study be conducted on the proposed coal export terminals in Washington and Oregon. Similar letters have been sent by the King County Executive, Clark County and Skagit County Boards of Commissions and the San Juan County Council, as well as by the mayors of Olympia, Burlington, Mount Vernon and Mukilteo.
McDermott will continue to fight back against the proposals to increase coal shipments through the Northwest and in tandem move forward with The True Cost of Coal Act to ensure that the adverse impacts of transporting coal are brought to light and properly addressed.