Demand for Coal May Be Declining, But We're Still Exporting A Lot of It

Posted by Chris Steinkamp

Right now, in America’s Pacific Northwest, communities are taking part in a historical opposition to Big Coal and its reckless pursuit of profits. American demand for coal is declining, and as a result the American coal industry plans to extract billions of tons of coal from the Powder River Basin and ship it to rapidly expanding Asian markets via proposed deep water ports in Washington and Oregon.

Each day, over fifty mile-and-a-half-long trains, laden with Powder River coal, will travel from Wyoming and Montana through hundreds of small towns to ports in the Pacific Northwest, leaving arsenic and mercury-laden coal dust in their wake. The near-constant stream of escaping coal dust imposes toxic environmental pollutants and a myriad of health risks to communities through which the trains travel. And that’s not even the worst of it.

Opening a gateway to burgeoning coal markets in Asia would all but ensure that billions of tons of coal found in the Powder River Basin deposit would find its way to Asia’s coal-burning power plants and eventually into our atmosphere. The amount of carbon emissions produced by the burning of this coal deposit alone would undoubtedly result in cataclysmic and irreversible impacts on global climate.

That coal has to stay in the ground. You can’t make the math of climate change work if you get the huge coal deposits of the Powder River Basin out and pour them into the atmosphere, says 350.org's Bill McKibben

The choices we make now will determine the make-up of future energy policies. Are we going to succumb to the financial interests of Big Coal with their false promises of job creation, or will we act to protect our planet and ourselves?

We all stand to gain from cleaner, more sustainable energy solutions. The clean energy economy has the potential to reestablish American innovation, manufacturing, and leadership while creating an enduring source of employment—and fighting climate change.

Momenta is a campaign to stop the abuses associated with an antiquated energy source and to focus our efforts on a cleaner energy future. It is a movement driven by a band of healthy-climate stakeholders: the outdoor and winter sports communities and the global nonprofit, Protect Our Winters (POW), where I am the Executive Director. POW’s mission is to fight climate change on behalf of the global snow sports community. Climate change is already affecting our mountains, but inconsistent winters present a direct threat to the economic vitality of tourist-based communities everywhere.

Burning coal is responsible for more than 30 percent of the current greenhouse gas emissions in the United States. If we can keep coal on the ground and transition to renewable energy sources, we’ll have successfully worked to curb climate change for us—and generations that follow. This is a project that we can win, with the support of all of you.

Unless you live there, you just can’t imagine how huge the Powder River Basin is and what 50 coal trains passing through daily can do to the community. It’s something that needs to be visually illustrated to gain broader awareness and take serious action. Because of that, I feel that a documentary, followed by a strong grassroots effort, is the best approach.

Momenta is close to my heart because of the vibrant winter sports community throughout the Pacific Northwest and our many friends who live in places like the small towns along the train route from Wyoming to Bellingham that are ground zero for asthma-causing coal dust. 

Because curbing climate change is our mission and burning this coal represents millions of tons of added carbon dioxide into our atmosphere, we should be finding ways to decrease it. 

On June 10, we launched a Kickstarter campaign to help with the production of Momenta for $69,000. This will fund the entire production of the project, but also activate a grassroots campaign throughout the Pacific Northwest to engage the community to stop the construction of the deepwater ports that will be exporting Big Coal. 

This will include partnerships with local nonprofits, those on the ground fighting the coal export terminals every day. The film will be used to engage and activate a broad community in this issue, including people who may not have first-hand knowledge of the coal exports and whose help is desperately needed if we’re going to win this fight. If you'd like to be a part of it, check out our Kickstarter campaign.

This project is part of GOOD's Saturday series Push for Good—our guide to crowdfunding creative progress.