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Proposed Coal Export Terminals Putting People and Planet at Risk

Climate

Earthjustice

On Wednesday, Northwest-based groups filed a formal petition with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers asking it to evaluate the cumulative and related impacts of all proposed coal export terminals in Oregon and Washington.

There are currently two active coal export proposals in Washington—Cherry Point (north of Bellingham) and Longview—and one proposal in Boardman, OR, that would collectively export a total 100 million metric tons of coal per year if built. Formally submitted by Earthjustice, the petitioners ask the Army Corps to conduct a single, comprehensive, area-wide environmental impact statement (EIS) under its National Environmental Policy Act authority.

"The threats from these coal export proposals connect communities across the region and cannot be overlooked,” stated Cesia Kearns, senior campaign representative for Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign and acting director for Power Past Coal. “We have been calling for an area-wide EIS for over a year; it’s time for the Army Corps to stop sitting on its hands.”

More than 500 businesses, 160 elected officials—including both Gov. Kitzhaber (D-OR) and Gov. Inslee (D-WA) and 10 members of Congress—three dozen municipalities, more than 100 organizations and a dozen newspapers, including the region’s largest The Seattle Times, have called for a full and thorough review of the proposed terminals. At least 35,000 citizens wrote to the Army Corps calling for an area-wide EIS.

“Spokane, WA, is hundreds of miles away from the proposed terminals yet we are ground zero for coal trains,” said Spokane, WA City Council President, Ben Stuckart.

“If all of the proposed coal terminals were built, Spokane could see 40 and-a-half-mile long coal trains—empty and full—rolling through town every day. Our air quality would suffer, traffic for commuters and truckers would get worse and taxpayers could wind up paying millions of dollars for new infrastructure. We can’t just draw a circle around the proposed terminals and study the on-site effects. We need to look at impacts and costs to communities all along the rail-line and also consider the bigger picture, like how burning all that coal would worsen climate change.”

In the fall of 2012, the Army Corps, Washington Deptartment of Ecology and Whatcom County Council conducted EIS scoping hearings in Washington for the proposed Cherry Point coal export terminal. However, they did not hold any hearings in Montana or Idaho despite rail-line communities in those states threatened with significant increases in coal-train traffic if the terminal was built. The petition to the Corps asks for the area-wide EIS to include impacts from increased mining in Wyoming and Montana, particularly on public lands; increased rail traffic throughout Wyoming, Montana, Idaho, Washington and Oregon; and the effect of coal export on domestic energy security and pricing. 

“These ports, if approved, would have tremendous impact on the Helena, MT, community," said Mary Ann Mackay, resident.

"Coal mined in the Powder River Basin, primarily Wyoming, would travel through Helena on the way to these ports and would dramatically increase the volume of coal train traffic in our community. This additional train traffic would further stress our aging infrastructure and increase air pollution from diesel fumes and coal dust. A comprehensive review of these impacts is the only way that we can ensure that our community can plan adequately for resolving the impacts from the increase in coal train traffic and ensure that Helena citizens would not be left footing the bill for necessary upgrades.”

More than 600 health professionals have either come out against or raised deep concern and caution over the proposed terminals, calling attention to the threat of increased coal train traffic that would result in more congestion, health impacts and more mercury, diesel and carbon pollution.

"Coal is the dirtiest and most dangerous fossil fuel. The production, transport and combustion of coal is harmful to its workers and to everyone else along the line, from the mines, to the trains, to the barges, to the ports and beyond," stated Dr. Susan Katz of Oregon Physicians for Social Responsibility. "The Army Corps of Engineers must ensure that the right questions are asked before serious harm is done to the health of our families and our environment."

Other issues that groups ask the Army Corps to consider in an area-wide EIS include: traffic, pollution, safety, health and congestion issues along the rail line between Powder River Basin area coal mines and the Pacific Northwest terminal sites.

“I live and farm along an ‘alternate’ rail line that would likely experience direct and indirect impacts if coal export is permitted from the Pacific Northwest,” said Nicole Brown, owner of Moondance Farm in Acme, WA. “Since these impacts are removed in distance and time from the proposed terminals, an area-wide EIS should be required to ensure fair treatment of all potentially impacted communities.”

The groups want the Army Corps to look at the effects of significantly increased barge and cargo ship operations on the Columbia River and in Puget Sound and combined vessel traffic impacts and oil spill risks in the transpacific navigational routes including the Gulf of Alaska and Unimak Pass. The Army Corps also, has not yet required a site-specific EIS at the Port of Morrow terminal at Boardman, and permit approvals there may go forward after an even more truncated environmental analysis.

The groups called on the Corps to consider effects on global consumption of coal due to the effect of the operation of export terminals on international market prices, and resulting increased greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution impacts from coal combustion in China, including mercury and other contaminant deposition in Pacific Northwest waters.

"If America plans to subsidize coal exports, it would have a real impact on China. It is important that the Army Corps conduct a study that accounts for all of the impacts of Northwest coal exports—and that includes us," said Hao Xin, executive director, Green Zhejiang, Hangzhou Eco-Culture Association, Green More, Xiacheng Dist., Hangzhou, China.

The petition was submitted by Climate Solutions, Columbia Riverkeeper, Friends of the Columbia Gorge, Greenpeace, National Wildlife Federation, Northern Plains Resource Council, Oregon Physicians for Social Responsibility, RE Sources, Sierra Club, Washington Environmental Council and Western Organization of Resource Councils.

Visit EcoWatch’s COAL EXPORTS page for more related news on this topic.

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The patient in the case report (let's call him Tom) was 54 and in good health. For two days in May, he felt unwell and was too weak to get out of bed. When his family finally brought him to the hospital, doctors found that he had a fever and signs of a severe infection, or sepsis. He tested positive for SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19 infection. In addition to symptoms of COVID-19, he was also too weak to move his legs.

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We are neurologists specializing in intensive care and leading studies related to neurological complications from COVID-19. Given the occurrence of Guillain-Barre Syndrome in prior pandemics with other corona viruses like SARS and MERS, we are investigating a possible link between Guillain-Barre Syndrome and COVID-19 and tracking published reports to see if there is any link between Guillain-Barre Syndrome and COVID-19.

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What Is Guillain-Barre Syndrome?

Guillain-Barre syndrome occurs when the body's own immune system attacks and injures the nerves outside of the spinal cord or brain – the peripheral nervous system. Most commonly, the injury involves the protective sheath, or myelin, that wraps nerves and is essential to nerve function.

Without the myelin sheath, signals that go through a nerve are slowed or lost, which causes the nerve to malfunction.

To diagnose Guillain-Barre Syndrome, neurologists perform a detailed neurological exam. Due to the nerve injury, patients often may have loss of reflexes on examination. Doctors often need to perform a lumbar puncture, otherwise known as spinal tap, to sample spinal fluid and look for signs of inflammation and abnormal antibodies.

Studies have shown that giving patients an infusion of antibodies derived from donated blood or plasma exchange – a process that cleans patients' blood of harmful antibodies - can speed up recovery. A very small subset of patients may need these therapies long-term.

The majority of Guillain-Barre Syndrome patients improve within a few weeks and eventually can make a full recovery. However, some patients with Guillain-Barre Syndrome have lingering symptoms including weakness and abnormal sensations in arms and/or legs; rarely patients may be bedridden or disabled long-term.

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As the COVID-19 pandemic sweeps across the globe, many neurologic specialists have been on the lookout for potentially serious nervous system complications such as Guillain-Barre Syndrome.

Though Guillain-Barre Syndrome is rare, it is well known to emerge following bacterial infections, such as Campylobacter jejuni, a common cause of food poisoning, and a multitude of viral infections including the flu virus, Zika virus and other coronaviruses.

Studies showed an increase in Guillain-Barre Syndrome cases following the 2009 H1N1 flu pandemic, suggesting a possible connection. The presumed cause for this link is that the body's own immune response to fight the infection turns on itself and attacks the peripheral nerves. This is called an "autoimmune" condition. When a pandemic affects as many people as our current COVID-19 crisis, even a rare complication can become a significant public health problem. That is especially true for one that causes neurological dysfunction where the recovery takes a long time and may be incomplete.

The first reports of Guillain-Barre Syndrome in COVID-19 pandemic originated from Italy, Spain and China, where the pandemic surged before the U.S. crisis.

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Due to the pandemic and infection-containment considerations, diagnostic tests, such as a nerve conduction study that used to be routine for patients with suspected Guillain-Barre Syndrome, are more difficult to do. In both U.S. cases, the initial diagnosis and treatment were all based on clinical examination by a neurological experts rather than any tests. Both patients survived but with significant residual weakness at the time these case reports came out, but that is not uncommon for Guillain-Barre Syndrome patients. The road to recovery may sometimes be long, but many patients can make a full recovery with time.

Though the reported cases of Guillain-Barre Syndrome so far all have severe symptoms, this is not uncommon in a pandemic situation where the less sick patients may stay home and not present for medical care for fear of being exposed to the virus. This, plus the limited COVID-19 testing capability across the U.S., may skew our current detection of Guillain-Barre Syndrome cases toward the sicker patients who have to go to a hospital. In general, the majority of Guillain-Barre Syndrome patients do recover, given enough time. We do not yet know whether this is true for COVID-19-related cases at this stage of the pandemic. We and colleagues around the world are working around the clock to find answers to these critical questions.

Sherry H-Y. Chou is an Associate Professor of Critical Care Medicine, Neurology, and Neurosurgery, University of Pittsburgh.

Aarti Sarwal is an Associate Professor, Neurology, Wake Forest University.

Neha S. Dangayach is an Assistant Professor of Neurology and Neurosurgery, Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai.

Disclosure statement: Sherry H-Y. Chou receives funding from The University of Pittsburgh Clinical Translational Science Institute (CTSI), the National Institute of Health, and the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine Dean's Faculty Advancement Award. Sherry H-Y. Chou is a member of Board of Directors for the Neurocritical Care Society. Neha S. Dangayach receives funding from the Bee Foundation, the Friedman Brain Institute, the Neurocritical Care Society, InCHIP-UConn Center for mHealth and Social Media Seed Grant. She is faculty for emcrit.org and for AiSinai. Aarti Sarwal does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

Reposted with permission from The Conversation.


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Sanders said that while the "end result isn't what I or my supporters would've written alone, the task forces have created a good policy blueprint that will move this country in a much-needed progressive direction and substantially improve the lives of working families throughout our country."

"I look forward to working with Vice President Biden to help him win this campaign," the Vermont senator added, "and to move this country forward toward economic, racial, social, and environmental justice."

Biden, for his part, applauded the task forces "for helping build a bold, transformative platform for our party and for our country."

"I am deeply grateful to Bernie Sanders for working with us to unite our party and deliver real, lasting change for generations to come," said the former vice president.

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"There is no going back," Franco added. "Not an inch, not a step. We must only move forward from here."

Reposted with permission from Common Dreams.