March 13 saw more than 430 Oregonians crowd the Capitol steps to voice opposition to millions of tons of coal that may soon stream through Oregon’s waters and along its railroads en route to Asia.

“Coal kills people, coal kills jobs,” said Bob Rees of Tillamook.  Rees, a 6th generation Oregonian and sports fisherman, spoke of the degradation of fish habitat caused by coal transportation and burning, saying it would damage the $5 billion/year guide and angler industry that employs thousands of families.

Dr. Patrick O’Hare from Salem Hospital, described the damage caused by airborne coal dust and diesel particulates to the human body.  “Also,” he said, “with 120-car-long trains [hauling coal to the Port of Coos Bay through Salem,] you’ve got a 5-6 minute wait at train crossings.  This can be a big deal if someone is bleeding to death in a car.  That wait can make the difference between living and dying.”

An alliance of West Coast communities, faith and environmental groups organized the event, focused on asking Governor Kitzhaber to deny a dredging permit requested by international energy giant Ambre Energy for a Port of Morrow terminal that would handle 8.8 million tons of coal yearly.

The permit was to be approved or denied by the Oregon Department of State Lands (DSL) on April 1, but on March 14, Ambre said the decision would be delayed until September 1.  DSL has asked Ambre for more information on possible environmental impacts before making their decision.

Mayor Jeremy Ferguson of Milwaukie, OR, emceed the rally.  “We want to stop making Oregon the coal shuttle of Asia,” he announced.  “We want to stop coal exports from hurting our planet and our communities before its too late.”  Milwaukee’s City Council passed a resolution opposing coal transport in October 2012.

Thirty cities have now written official letters of objection or passed resolutions to coal transport through their territory or the Pacific Northwest.  Salem’s city government has yet to join them.