Congress shoots down proposed CB coal train study

Congress shoots down proposed CB coal train study

COOS BAY, Ore.-- A study to examine the impacts of coal dust being transported through cities like Eugene to ports like the International Port of Coos Bay died in the U.S. House of Representatives late last week.

Oregon Congressman Peter Defazio (D) had brought up the proposed study as an amendment to a coal bill.

The amendment to the bill would require the U.S. Department of Transportation and the Environmental Protection Agency to issue a report to Congress about fugitive coal dust within six months of the bill's passage. The dust is the main reason anti-coal opponents are trying to stop coal trains from moving through inland Oregon to the Oregon Coast and on to Asian countries.

"I think we need a definitive study that shows what is the extent of the problem and how to we mitigate it," Defazio tells KCBY.

Defazio said he wanted to have the study done because recently the Burlington Northern-Santa Fe Railroad had filed a complaint against coal companies about problems they were having with coal dust, and he is concerned similar instances could happen in his district.

Defazio mentioned coal dust leading to equipment failures, equipment repairs and even derailements of trains.

"We need to know the effects of fugitive coal dust, it does exist," Defazio said. "I think a study would help with the controversy about these trains, and that study would also examine solutions if there is a problem."

But House Republicans lead by Kentucky Congressman Ed Whitfield said the study would lead to new regulations and the current regulations in place are fine.

A spokesman for Whitfield released the following statement:

“Congressman Whitfield viewed the amendment as duplicating existing requirements," said Corry Sheirmeyer, Whitfield spokesperson. "Fugitive dust from the transport of coal is already regulated at the Federal and state level under the Clean Air Act and State fugitive dust laws and regulations.  There have been and continue to be many studies on this subject. In fact, just recently, the Army Corps of Engineers announced that it will conduct an environmental assessment of the proposed coal terminal in Rep. DeFazio’s district as well as the coal terminals in the Seattle District. Additionally, the EPA is already required to study the environmental and health impacts from particulate matter from all sources, including fugitive sources, and of all composition, including coal dust.  The most recent summary of that science was published by EPA in 2009, and supplemented in 2010.”

Coal experts KCBY spoke with say the study by the Army Corp will not specifically address the concerns between Eugene and the Port of Coos Bay, but it would be more of a generic industry-wide study.

The Port of Coos Bay says more information and facts that help educate the public about the issue are always welcomed in the discussion, especially since The Port is the one left answering questions to people opposing the coal trains.

"It's important to know that there is scientific data out there," Elise Hamner, Port Spokeswoman, said. "I don't know if people have a handle around where it is, and who's done research to date and where that research has occurred."

Hamner said more studies could lead to more information about the effects of coal dust, and that information could lead to better decision making.

The Port insists that coal trains are merely a proposal right now, and nothing is set in stone. 

The amendment, though supported by seven House republicans, was defeated before the Hosue adjourned fo