Thursday, June 30, 2011

Of Garlic and Rail Traffic

I am allergic to garlic.  I eat it and I generally have a reaction to it soon thereafter.  I know this and live my life accordingly.  When I slip up or deviate, I pay a non-trivial price.  This comes to my mind as I think about this current debate over the Cherry Point coal terminal, because I am baffled by the line of reasoning that goes: We need to wait until the EIS is finished to express any notes of opposition regarding this project.  (Of course, this same dictum does not apply to those wishing to express whole-hearted support for the project.)

The above construct is specious.  I do not need a full-blown chemical analysis of a given dish that smells of garlic to know that I shouldn’t eat it.  The same is true for leaders who know that any increase in train traffic associated with this project is going to cause their cities and towns additional distress.  Therefore, it seems illogical in the extreme to castigate folks put in office—in part—for their knowledge of municipal systems when they collect information and express an informed position.  It seems like this would be a desired or at least acceptable function of their job.  It seems like this is leadership.

Now if I said I was allergic to something that I had never tried before, that would be a ridiculous position for me to take.  But this is not what we are seeing in this instance.  Folks are talking about train traffic and increased diesel particulates.  We know the number of trains from permit applications and public statements from SSA Marine and we know that trains emit diesel particulates.  Therefore, for mayors in rail traffic-impacted municipalities such as Spokane, Kent, Everett, and Marysville to express concerns about the implications about added rail traffic seems more like a core part of their job and less like an irresponsible action. 

PM: Particulate Matter

And the same goes for concerns expressed about diesel particulates.  We have figures for grams per ton-mile from numerous sources and we know—again from permit applications—how many tons will be hauled.  The rest is simple math and logic.  More particulate matter leads to higher cancer risks as well as the risk of heart disease and respiratory ailments.  The exact level of that risk is certainly in the realm of models and complex algorithms that will be the part of any reasonable EIS, but the fact of elevated risk can defensibly be concluded with nary a calculation.  This is prudency.  

What is irresponsible and disrespectful is identifying these informed comments as fear-mongering or anything other than what they are.  The EIS process is an important element of any significant project with broad impact.  It is not, however, intended to be a giant stop sign that arrests all thought and opinion, nor should it be a vehicle that inhibits actors in the debate from exhibiting leadership.

--Bob Ferris
Executive Director


  1. I live nearby the Selkirk Rail Yard, which is operated by CSX's Albany (NY) Division:

    The rail yard is adjacent to 3 very polluting industries, The Owens Corning Delmar Fiberglas factory; the GE Selkirk CoGen plant; and the former GE, now Sabic Plastics manufacturing plant. A few miles away from these plants and the rail yard is the Lafarge Ravena cement plant, which is NY's second largest emitter of mercury. (This one cement plant annually emits more mercury than half of our state's 13 coal-fired power plants combined.)

    Yes, particulate toxins, including heavy metals and dioxins, are extremely hazardous to our health and our environment. We have so far been unable to develop any technology that is able to capture the smallest and most dangerous particulates, those smaller than 2.5 microns, which are so microscopically tiny they can pass unobstructed through the Blood-Brain and Placental Barriers.

    Only today did I receive this good news, not a solution, but a step in the right direction:

    Million Dollar EPA Grant Powers Green Locomotive in Upstate New York

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