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Gateway Pacific Coal Terminal: “Fact Sheets,” Flack Sheets or Misinformation?

March 2012

Cover Story

Gateway Pacific Coal Terminal: “Fact Sheets,” Flack Sheets or Misinformation?

by Preston Schiller and anonymous “anti-coalies”

Bellingham resident Preston Schiller has been involved with regional, state and federal transportation and environmental issues, policy and legislation for more than 25 years as a citizen, alternatives advocate, researcher and teacher. He is co-author of “An Introduction to Sustainable Transportation: Policy, Planning and Implementation” (Earthscan, 2010). In the late 1970s and early 1980s, he led an evaluation of a public health education program in a remote region of coal mining Appalachia for the School of Public Health of the University of North Carolina. He witnessed the social and environmental devastation of King Coal up close and personal and is much chagrined to find Mr. Peabody’s coal trains showing up in Bellingham.

Part 1

The “Coal Update” in the February issue of Whatcom Watch asserted that the Gateway Pacific Terminal’s (GPT) “fact” sheets (and expensive mailers filling our recycling bins), at the heart of their public outreach campaign were misinforming the public. From Lions Club presentations to community newsletter inclusions, some of GPT’s cited “facts” are derived from consultant reports commissioned by (guess who?) GPT! The update drew an e-mail from GPT’s Communications Coordinator asking “what statistics within the GPT fact sheets are false?” This reply crafted with the help of a few trusted expert sources rakes GPT’s “facts” over the coals of careful scrutiny. Space does not allow us to offer a line-by-line rebuttal of GPT’s flack sheet (you can download it at, select “Current Newsletter” then scroll down to p.4) but here is a sampling of our response to half-truths, misrepresentations and omitted facts. Format: GPT assertion followed by actual fact:

GPT: $600–$700 million privatelyfunded project

Anti-Coalies: Part of the project receives private funding, but tax subsidies (this coal is sold far below market value from our public lands and many impacts are borne by the public) and taxpayer costs in the hundreds of millions if not billions for rail improvements mean that there will be public funding. There is reason to worry about additional federal subsidies that might be created by GPT’s friends in Congress to help this project.

GPT: Two-year construction period will create 3,500–4,400 new jobs and $74–$92 million in state and local tax revenues. Once operational, the terminal will sustain 294–430 permanent direct jobs, with an average annual salary of over $90,000. These direct jobs, along with induced and indirect employment will sustain 860–1,250 permanent jobs, and create $8 to $11 million annually in local and state tax revenues. 

Anti-Coalies: These estimates and local employment promises are probably exaggerated, especially since such construction projects generally import out-of-state workers and contractors for many specialized tasks and it is very tricky and controversial to estimate “induced and indirect.” Most egregiously GPT carefully sidesteps and refuses to study how many existing jobs and businesses may be lost due to the negative impacts of the project. These could potentially outnumber GPT’s job claims. The tax revenue benefits are illusory since the public will pay for 90 percent of the safety projects (over/underpasses, signals, etc) A single grade separation costs around $50 million, meaning that the four grade crossings for the Bellingham waterfront alone will cost twenty years of GPT taxes. What about the other 624 miles of rail in Washington — how many hundreds of millions of dollars will safety improvements cost there?

GPT: Terminal is designed to handle more than one commodity at a time such as U.S. coal, grains, corn, potash, calcined coke, and wood bio-fuels, which makes it adaptable to changing markets.

Anti-Coalies: Irrelevant. GPT’s proposal suggests building the single 48 million ton coal loop first, then the tiny 6 million ton loop later if market conditions permit.

GPT: Shoreline permit requires zero dust at the property line; it states: “No odors, dust, dirt, or smoke shall be emitted that are detectable at or beyond the property line…to cause a nuisance.”

Anti-Coalies: Untrue. GPT doesn’t have a shoreline permit for the new project.

GPT: All materials will be unloaded in enclosed, air-controlled structures, and moved in conveyor systems that are either tightly covered (over land) or fully enclosed (over water).

Anti-Coalies: Please show an example of a single coal system in the U.S. that doesn’t spill coal from these exact systems. Seward, AK, which uses the same conveyor system as shown in GPT’s permit file consistently leaks coal.

GPT: Open storage area (coal) will use additional dust control systems including a wind wall, sprayers, foggers, and berms—these measures are far superior to Canadian terminals (such as the Westshore terminal built 40 years ago at Tsawwassen).

Anti-Coalies: Probably untrue. GPT’s permit application does not show a wind wall on any of the diagrams. In addition, Westshore, like every other terminal in North America, uses sprayers, foggers, and berms while losing over 700 tons of dust a year into the surrounding waters. No terminal uses a wind wall which, with circulating wind currents, might make the problem worse.

GPT: The project will undergo a thorough two-year environmental review that ensures the project complies with a multitude of federal, state, and local environmental laws and regulations.

Anti-Coalies: Even with that review there will be massive impacts that simply can’t be mitigated.

GPT: Locomotives are four times more fuel efficient than the trucks we pass by every day on I-5, and only account for 0.6 percent of total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. Of the 19 activities monitored by the Washington Department of Ecology (DOE), locomotives rank among the three smallest contributors of air particulate emissions. Trains are subject to new stringent standards by the EPA to reduce diesel emissions by 90 percent. Trains only contribute 0.8 percent of the state’s total PM2.5 emissions (fine particulate matter) — way behind wood stoves (19 percent) and farming equipment (17 percent).

Anti-Coalies: Irrelevant half-truths: No one proposed moving coal by trucks. What matters is the amount of diesel particulates emitted by the trains and their proximity to populations. If 54 million tons of material are moved through our region by train, it is the equivalent of over 2 million semis per year-despite locomotive efficiency. Exposure to diesel particulate pollution as well as coal dust is extremely unhealthy for persons living or working within ¼ mile to one mile of a busy railway, switching yard, coal terminal or heavily used siding. Diesel standards have only very recently been tightened and will take decades to have an effect on the current (largely exempt) locomotive (and truck) fleet. Comparing the toxicity of statewide diesel particulate emissions with those from woodstoves and farm equipment is a ploy to detract attention from the risks inherent in proximity to rail facilities. BNSF says that by 2020 only 18 percent of their fleet will be the newer, lower emission locomotives. BP’s low sulfur refinery improvements have only begun this year. The application of dust suppression required by BNSF has been appealed and blocked for now by coal interests. Better start stocking up on hospital masks!

For more information and studies about the impacts of coal terminals and coal trains please consult: ,, , and

Next Month

Part II of our GPT Flack Sheet.

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