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Coal Trains Coming 

The Environmental Protection Agency weighs in on coal dust. Plus, a peace protest turns into pandemonium in Colville.

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The Environmental Protection Agency has taken notice of the uproar in Spokane and other communities about the possibility of more coal shipments passing through.

In early April, the EPA issued a letter to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers outlining the potential harm caused by coal dust coming off uncovered freight trains (and more diesel fumes from the locomotives).

“Coal dust is a human health concern because it can cause pneumoconiosis, bronchitis and emphysema,” the letter states, adding that the dust is also an environmental concern because it settles on water, soil and vegetation.

The recommendation was made as part of the public comment for a coal-shipment facility being considered in the Port of Morrow, Ore. The project is one of at least six proposed coal-shipment facilities in Washington and Oregon. Since several rail lines converge in Spokane before spreading out to the coast, Spokane could see a surge in trains carrying coal.

A spokeswoman for the U.S. Army Corps’ Portland district says the corps will consider a recommendation.

“It’s not really anything out of the ordinary,” says Michelle Helms, a spokeswoman for the Corps, referring to the letter.

But Bart Mihailovich, the Spokane Riverkeeper, commended the EPA for “sticking their neck out on this one.”

“I just feel like it’s a little bit of an unpopular thing to do,” Mihailovich says of the EPA letter. “News like this certainly helps shows that it’s becoming more of a statewide issue.”

Coal exports to Asia from the United States grew 176 percent between 2009 and 2010, or 17.9 million short tons’ worth, The Inlander reported in March. (Joe O'Sullivan)

Peace Sign or Communist Plot?

Peter Quinn’s plan was simple: turn Colville’s mountainside “C” sign into a peace sign. It was meant to be an Earth Day protest against war.

The 50-some people who turned out to a Colville City Council meeting to discuss it, however, told Quinn otherwise.

“‘Look, Earth Day isn’t even Earth Day — Earth Day is nothing but a communist celebration,’” Quinn says the majority of the audience told the City Council earlier this month. “So they just got that one going, they called us all the antichrist, they compared the peace sign with the inverted cross and all kind of craziness.”

Meanwhile, the city’s planning and streets department weighed in, saying it was a bad idea because it could be seen as defacing public property and might open the door to the “C” being used by other groups.

And so, after a raucous meeting, Quinn withdrew his proposal. But while he may have lost the battle, Quinn says the war is not lost.

“I’m just getting people talking about peace, you know what I mean?” Quinn says. “And even though they wouldn’t let us put the peace sign up, there’s a lot of talk about peace.” (Chris Stein)

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