Friday, June 21, 2013

Wyoming coal dust a pollutant -- or not? Ask a bride...

On Saturday, I posted about Seattle and the fact that urbanites in that green bastion might have to drink their lattes with a spritz of coal dust if Wyoming and Montana and Peabody Energy get their way and send swarms of coal trains to West Coast ports. Most of the coal will be bound for energy-hungry China.

One reader told me that Powder River Basin coal companies are now spraying the tops of their coal cars with "surfactants" that adhere to the coal and prevent the dust from flying every which way. Burlington Northern Santa Fe officials said that "spraying cuts dust by 85 percent," according to a story in the Portland Oregonian.

I also found out from the same article that coal companies now load coal in a "bread loaf shape that reduces dust." Not sure how that works, but I'm willing to accept the fact that changing the aerodynamics of a train load can have a positive effect.

A war is being waged here between energy-producing red-staters and bluish greenies on the coast. Some of my fellow union members in the Pacific Northwest are in favor of the coal train shipments as it could mean up to 15,000 jobs at the ports and the railyards. Some of my fellow red-state Dems in the northern Rockies are against the coal shipments and the coal burning that will lead to more global warming. The mayor of Missoula, for instance. But you know how Missoula is. 

Yesterday the Army Corps of Engineers announced that it will not do an in-depth study of the possible pollution caused by a flurry of coal shipments to West Coast ports. The coal people saw this as a victory while the anti-coal people did not. As we all know, only part of this struggle is about scientific fact; the rest is about emotion and political clout. Repubs will shout about jobs and the free market. Dems will shout about pollution and global warming. 

But what will the brides be shouting about?

The in-laws, probably, especially the groom's drunken uncle. But they won't be complaining about coal dust ruining their dresses if they're getting married outdoors in Gillette "Coal City" Wyoming.  

I caught a short status update on Facebook today that addressed the issue. It was by Joe Lunne, PIO of the City of Gillette.  I work as a PIO when I'm not blogging, so I know that Joe is just trying to do his job in the face of overwhelming attacks from environmentalists and The Liberal Media Monolith. Coal pays the piper in Gillette and throughout the state. I thought his approach to this issue was touchingly personal, which is really what most political fights come down to. Take a look at the accompanying photo and then read the status update:
"This picture shows a stretch of the walking path around Cam-Plex park. The park is only 75 feet from Highway 14/16 and about 175 feet from the railroad tracks that carry millions of tons of coal out of the Powder River Basin every day. 
"Around a hundred weddings take place in the park each year, and that would not happen if coal were as dirty as its critics say it is. The park is clean...and so are the wedding dresses. The brides wouldn't have it any other way!"
I don't think that Joe will be called to testify at any Congressional hearings. Or any of the hundred brides that get married this year down by the railroad tracks. But who knows? Weirder things have happened. 


RobertP said...


I remember the first time we came to see you in Cheyenne, on our way to the Black Hills. We took the Wyoming back roads to the Black Hills. We only saw a few cars in a several hour ride, but we did see the longest coal train I have ever seen. Unbelievably long and a tangible sign of the impact of coal in the Wyoming economy.

The real losers here are the Chinese people that are already suffering through horrific pollution.

Keep up the good work.


Michael Shay said...

Coal is king, which means we can't seem to envision Wyoming without it. To criticize coal is seen as treason. But it's poisoning us all.