The Sierra Club
Explore, enjoy and protect the planet
☰ Menu
 

Exports: A Bad Investment

water pollution

Across the country, Americans are turning to cleaner energy and phasing out coal power. Because of that, the coal industry has come up with a new plan: strip-mine coal in places like Montana, Wyoming, and Appalachia; transport it on long, uncovered coal trains through cities and towns; load it onto massive cargo ships at new coal export terminals proposed to be built on the U.S. coast; and sell it to Asia. This plan has real and potentially devastating consequences to our health, our communities, and our environment.

Health impacts of coal transport

Coal dust and diesel exhaust from coal trains and cargo ships can cause serious long-term health problems like lung and heart disease and cancer. The wide ranging health dangers of coal dust include exposure to toxic heavy metals like mercury and increased rates of asthma, especially in children. Burlington Northern Sante Fe (BNSF) railroad estimates up to 500 pounds of coal can be lost in the form of dust from each rail car en route.

Coal trains in our communities

Many neighborhoods targeted for increased train traffic due to coal exports are lower-income communities that are already overburdened with pollution and economic development challenges. For example, many of the communities that coal trains would travel through are already disproportionately suffering the health impacts of poor air quality. Transporting coal through these neighborhoods would only exacerbate these conditions.

Additionally, communities in and along rail lines and near the coal export terminals could see 20 to 60 coal trains rolling through town every day. This increased traffic would create delays at busy rail crossings, clog commuter traffic, slow response times for emergency responders, and hamper access to neighborhoods, schools, hospitals, and business corridors.

Coal Exports and the planet

Exporting coal abroad would mean increased coal mining at home. New and expanded mines would put more communities at risk, threaten precious water sources, and jeopardize long-term productivity of fragile farmland, rangelands, and wildlife habitat.

Additionally, exporting coal promotes deeper global fossil fuel dependence, delaying the urgently needed transition to cleaner alternatives and accelerating the climate disruption that is already putting communities at risk.