Photo by Zachariah Bryan
James Wells, a community organizer in opposition of the proposed coal train terminal near Bellingham, speaks to two community members about coal trains.

Residents learn how to speak up about coal trains

What do you have to say about coal trains?

That's the question that was asked last night when over 50 people sat in the Sunset Hill Community Center to learn about the coal train proposal, and how to speak against it. The event was largely slanted against coal trains.

The proposed coal terminal near Bellingham could bring up to 18 trains 120 cars long through Seattle -- and through the Ballard area.

Proponents say the terminal will bring jobs to Washington and that the exports will be a boost to the economy. However, opponents cite concerns about the environment and skepticism over the economic benefits.

Mayor Mike McGinn opened up the event, saying that it was important for residents to speak up.

"These are serious questions, and we haven’t yet begun to even answer these questions … these are questions that should be answered,” he said.

McGinn said he believed that the community did have a voice and that things can happen if they speak up. He cited his time as a community organizer and his grassroots Mayoral campaign as proof that residents can create change, no matter how much money is being thrown against them.

"I know from these experiences that people organizing, people talking to each other, people holding elected officials accountable (can make things happen)," he said.

The main lecture was given by James Wells, a community leader who is working to stop the proposed coal terminal.

He said that though the proposal will require 16 permits in order to go through, that the decision will really be based on one question: "Will it be allowed? Yes or no?” he said.

That is why people must express their opinion now, before the public comment period for the Environmental Impact Statement scoping process ends Jan. 21, Wells explained.

"We have a chance to influence all along the way, just the social picture, the conversation of whetehr or not this is a good idea," he said.

There are seven public hearings where people can voice their opinion, Wells said. The first, in Bellingham, took place this past Saturday, Oct. 29, and had a large turnout. Seattle will have its own hearing on Saturday, Nov. 17, at North Seattle Community College (9600 College Way N).

Wells said that it's key for people to voice specific concerns about how they think coal trains will affect the environment.

The definition of environment, in this case, means more than just nature, wildlife and habitat. It also means "built environment," which includes basically anything found in civilization -- how coal trains might affect traffic, the economy, nearby structures, etcetera.

"Environment is everything you care about," he said.

Most importantly, Wells said it was important for people to show that they are people.

"You know what works? Simple, straightforward, plain language about reality,” he said. "You know what an emotion is? it’s a reaction to reality."

An example of how people can be moved to change their minds was given by Eric Tremblay, who blogs about coal for the Daily KOs and who was at the meeting. He described the most moving moment at the coal train public hearing in Bellingham last Saturday.

“I saw a woman (who was 83 years old) who gave a comment which moved the entire audience, and I don’t doubt it the panel as well. She had come to give a comment in favor of the terminal and had sat through 80-some people listening to most of them against the proposal. And she changed her mind completely, and she got up, and she apologized for coming to comment in favor of it. And she did it in tears, and she brought the audience to tears."

"It’s a symbol of sort of everything," Wells said. "I think it’s the most important story of the campaign yet."

For more information about coal trains, visit the Sierra Club website at

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