Fight to keep CB coal trains out of Eugene gets tougher

Fight to keep CB coal trains out of Eugene gets tougher
COOS BAY, Ore.-- The fight to keep the Port of Coos Bay from shipping coal through the City of Eugene just got a but tougher after Congressman Peter Defazio says he is in full support of the coal trains.

A proposal to build a coal export facility in Coos Bay has some Eugene city councilors and other groups up in arms. Opponents say they're worried the trains carrying the coal to the South Coast would spread coal dust and cause traffic congestions, but their fight now appears to be getting a bit tougher.

Congressman Peter Defazio told KCBY after townhall meeting in Bandon last week that he sides with the Port of Coos Bay's decision to transport coal by rail through the state, into the Willamette Valley and into the Port of Coos Bay to be shipped to countries like Korea.

"I've talked to the port same thing. I've talked to the railroads they say hey we can design a car that can be fully enclosed you'll have a hopper off loaded into a shed. There'll be no coal dust anywhere," Defazio said.

Despite opposition from some in the Eugene City Council threatening to pass a resolution hoping to ban the trains, the Port of Coos Bay says choosing what passes through Eugene on their trains is not that easy.

"In the U.S. there is an issue called a common carrier obligation, and as a commercial fright rail operator we don't have the right to deny service to a customer. We are obligated to provide service," said Elise Hamner, Port of Coos Bay spokeswoman.

Opponents have also come to Defazio with concerns over the coal contributing to global warming, but Defazio says he isn't buying the arguments.

"I've had people say, if the U.S. doesn't sell coal to Korea they'll stop burning coal. No it's not. In fact Korea is burning very dirty coal right now. Much dirtier than ours," Defazio said. "If they were using U.S. coal then it would be a cleaner burn that what they are using now."

The Port of Coos Bay says now is a time for residents to talk to them about their concerns because they too want an environmentally friendly operation, and they believe residents have legitimate concerns.

"We want a safe operationm," Hamner said. "We want a clean operation. We also want an operation that is supporting jobs that exist in this community."

With the issue of coal trains being an interstate commerce issue that can only be regulated by the Federal government, and Southwest Oregon's Federal representative now supporting coal trains, it looks like there is little the City of Eugene can do to prevent coal trains from passing through.

If the City of Eugene did pass a resolution expressing its desire to ban the train's passage while also voicing concerns about the environment, the city would be able to merely pass a resolution that is non-legally binding. The resolution would be more of a formal expression of the city's opinion rather than something that could be acted upon policy-wise.