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Seattle, local and tribal leaders unite to block coal trains

A new coalition of local and tribal leaders is coming together to block coal trains and exports across the region. (AP image)

Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn and other city and tribal leaders are joining together to try and stop coal trains and exports across the region.

"We will stand together to stop the coal trains," McGinn said Monday at a news conference announcing the formation of the new Leadership Alliance Against Coal.

"These coal trains threaten the health of our communities, the strength of our economies, and the environmental and cultural heritage we share," McGinn said.

Five ports proposed in Washington and Oregon would ship as much as 140 millions tons of coal a year from Montana and Wyoming's Powder River basin, where it could travel by rail through communities such as Spokane and Seattle before being loaded onto ships bound for Asia.

A City of Seattle study found coal trains would add an additional two hours of what officials call "gate downtime" at major street crossings by 2025, causing significant congestion for people living or driving near rail tracks.

The new alliance is urging state and federal agencies to deny permits for the proposals.

"The economic, environmental and health issues raised by this 19th Century proposal are below us as a city and a state," said State Representative Reuven Carlyle. "We need to focus on high quality, innovative, entrepreneurial markets and ideas that lift us up - not unhealthy, dangerous commodities that assault our global economy."

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and state agencies are reviewing three projects: north of Bellingham and in Longview, Washington, and at the Port of Morrow, Oregon.

Supporters say the projects would create jobs, generate millions in tax revenues, boost the local economy and expand trade and exports, which have played a central role in the economies of Washington and Oregon. They note that the projects will undergo rigorous environmental reviews.

"Local, state and federal regulators deserve a chance to review the projects with rigor, and that's what they are doing. We will wait for what they find," said Lauri Hennessey, a spokeswoman for Alliance for NW Jobs & Exports, a trade group that includes BNSF Railway and top U.S. coal producers.

But Jay Julius, a council member with Lummi Nation, whose lands are close to the proposed coal-export terminal near Bellingham, said Monday that "the proposed project must not and will not go forward."

"The impacts can't be mitigated," said Julius, noting the project would harm tribal fishing rights and burial grounds.

The Leadership Alliance Against Coal includes leaders from the Tulalip Tribes, Swinomish Tribal Community and Lummi Nation. City leaders are from Seattle, King County, Spokane, Edmonds, Marysville and others.

The Associated Press contributed to this report

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