Students work to stop coal exports

Coal is a hot topic on campus once again thanks to Jacob Gellman, ’13, and Students for a Sustainable Campus (SSC). After interning with the Sierra Club this summer, Gellman is spearheading a campus effort to prevent coal exports from passing through the Pacific Northwest.

The campaign had over 300 signatures on a petition as of Oct. 6 and ASUPS is considering passing a resolution in support of the students’ efforts. Student environmental advocacy groups throughout the Pacific Northwestare working together on the issue.

“Our goal would be to all deliver our resolutions to the state capitals and have a joint demonstration, but that is yet to be determined,” Gellman said. “We are also petitioning to a couple of elected officials. Washington State Commissioner of Public Lands Peter Goldmark has authority to revoke permit proposals for coal export sites, so he is a main target. Governor Gregoire is a target as well.”

The campaign’s focus is on two proposed coal export terminals in Washington State, one in Bellingham and one in Longview. The terminals would load coal from mines in Wyoming and Montana onto ships bound predominantly for China. According to Gellman, this export industry presents an array of dangers.

“Coal dust has a lot of toxic heavy metals in it. It is transported in uncovered railcars and the coal dust blows out. It gets into the soil and thus food supplies, it gets into the water and thus fisheries, it gets into the air and causes black lung disease,” Gellman said. “They would also be sending 20 more trains per day per export terminal, which means more diesel exhaust.”

ASUPS passed a similar resolution last spring supporting the closure of the TransAlta coal plant in Centralia and it was during that campaign that Gellman first became interested in environmental advocacy. He worked as a community organizing and research intern in the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign this summer. Mary Anne Hitt, the Director of the Beyond Coal campaign, spoke on campus on Sept. 7 regarding their recent $50 million grant from Michael Bloomberg.

Gellman hopes for more student activism regarding an issue directly contributing to global warming. The burning of coal in power plants releases greenhouse gases and toxins like mercury into the atmosphere.

The two export facilities would be the largest in North America, each with capacity of 80 million tons of coal per year. Norfolk, Va. is currently the largest with only 24 million tons exported per year.

“I think during the Vietnam era students were a really important voice against war, and I think climate change is the issue for our time. Young people need to stand up,” Gellman said.