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Coal Gets King-Sized Attention at NPRC Annual Event

November 11, 2011

BILLINGS, Mont. - Coal is getting most of the attention this weekend at the Northern Plains Resource Council annual meeting. Keynote speakers and panels will discuss environmental concerns, as well as ways to encourage more renewable energy development in Montana.

Dr. Frank James, a county health officer from Washington State, is one of the speakers. He organized nearly 200 physicians who oppose plans to use trains to haul coal from the Powder River Basin to the Washington coast for processing and export, because of potential damage to public health.

"Doctors are generally averse to controversy, and don't like to take public stands. So, to have 190 doctors? Extraordinary. I've never seen it in my whole life."

Public health risks include exposure to the diesel particulates emitted from trains, coal dust, excessive noise, increased train accidents, and the one-load-per-hour train shipments delaying emergency personnel and doctors in traffic.

Dr. James says physicians wants a full assessment of health impacts along the train tracks from Montana to Washington, and he points to the diesel pollution as the most dangerous health factor, one connected to heart attacks, stroke and asthma.

"This is an extraordinary amount. This is 48 million tons per year. That's one of these trains, that's 1.6 miles long, coming through our community and through every community, every hour."

The Northern Plains Resource Council annual meeting runs today and Saturday.

Deb Courson Smith, Public News Service - MT