The Powder River Basin (PRB) in Southern Montana and Northern Wyoming is home to billions of tons of coal deposits. Coal mine owners in the eastern MT and eastern WY are trying to take advantage of the booming markets in China, South Korea, India, and other countries in Asia by shipping their coal overseas. Coal producers in the PRB have teamed up with export and rail road companies proposing the Gateway Pacific Terminal in Cherry Point, WA. The major issue has become a battle between supporters of economic gain and environmental conservation in the greater Northwest. The exporting could help satisfy Asian economies’ hunger for coal and help the country in financial stress. But preventing the pollution will help reduce climate change and ecological damage from the Great Plains to the Pacific Northwest, and globally.
The Powder River Basin is the known for coal plain and simple. It is 120 miles east to west and 200 miles north to south. Since 1988 the PRB has made WY the main coal producer in the U.S. producing 396 million tones per year (2007). PRB is the single largest source of coal mined in the U.S. and is one of the largest coal deposits in the world (SourceWatch).
The proposed Cherry Point, WA coal port is expected to ship 125 million tons per year to Asian markets all sourcing from the PRB. The coal will come from various mines in the PRB. Two possible mine on Tribal Lands in MT will be determined if the coal port is approved in the spring of 2013. There is a 103 billion ton deal in the Otter Creek Valley on the Northern Cheyenne Reservation and 104 billion ton lease on the Crow Reservation in south central Montana that could possibly make Montana the U.S.’ number 1 coal producer.
The ecological effects of the coal mining, railroad development, coal-train transport, coal export facilities development, coal shipping, coal burning, CO2, and methyl mercury pollution will not only create problems for all life in the Northwest, but for people, plants, animals, and insects around the world. Everything is here for a reason and when we erase species existence with pollution, we create voids in the web of life. These voids in the ecosystem create problems that will affect living and non-living factors in the connected world that thrives off of bio-diversity.
The astonishing amount of water used in the process of coal mining is polluted and usually dumped into clean water sources because of EPA loopholes that consider this a form of purification. The water is contaminated and will negatively affect stream ecology and ground water. Long-term disruption from pollution will lead to the degradation of the aquatic life and species using the water (which is almost everything!).
New coalmines mean new coal railroads tracks and more trains. A Tongue River Railroad has been proposed by the in the Otter Creek Valley on the Northern Cheyenne Reservation. The track will affect many Native families in the valley, farmers, ranchers, plant and animal species by destroying and polluting the habitat.
The railroad transfer will send 100’s of coal packed trains from WY and MT to the proposed Gateway Pacific Terminal daily! The open train cargos will blow fine particulate matter across the greater northwest polluting the air, which creates breathing problems for children and adults, and contaminates streams.
The development of the proposed Gateway Pacific Terminal will negatively affects the much needed sensitive riparian zones, and aquatic life, and will pollute the Pudget Sound waters.
The Asian markets coal use is rapidly raising atmospheric CO2 levels and their air pollution is settling in our water sources threating the greater north west ecosystems with methyl mercury pollution. (Methly-mercury is created by bacteria at the bottom of a body of water by converting mercury into methyl-mercury. The mercury is emitted into the atmosphere, collects other pollutants, descends into bodies of water where it is converted into methyl-mercury. The methyl-mercury is then built up in aquatic predators and stored in their fat cells. The more a fish ages the more it’s mercury it contains. As the fish consume more over time they become poisones to humans, birds, and other fish. The methyl-mercury can create birth defects on infants, caused nerve damage, and create other health effects for people).
We have to take a stand for our environment and to protect our ecosystems against irreversible damage. Visit Power Past Coal to see how you can act locally, nationally and globally.
*Special thanks to Power Past Coal for the images in this post.