On Monday, hundreds of activists gathered in downtown Portland, Oregon to protest a proposal that would allow coal transport trains to run from Montana and Wyoming through the Northwest, leaving coal ash everywhere in between. The lunchtime event featured multiple speakers, the highlight of which was Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., chief prosecuting attorney for Hudson Riverkeeper and president of the Waterkeeper Alliance.
Kennedy’s speech was both inspiring and terrifying. First, he told stories of West Virginia towns where big coal companies had promised prosperity and ultimately turned them into ghost towns. (“Coal doesn’t share its wealth. It makes a few people billionaires by impoverishing everyone else.”)
He described previous lawsuits where coal companies were forced to obtain permits and abide by the law, only to have lobbyists redefine that law to make coal companies exempt from it. And he gave heart-wrenching stories and statistics about deaths and health problems that are happening all over the country because of coal.
“…Pollutants from coal burning power plants cost this country 345 billion dollars annually in healthcare costs. We can pay for Obamacare half a dozen times over, just by eliminating those two pollutants from coal burning power plants…. These are parts of the costs of coal that they don’t tell you about when they say it’s only 11 cents a kilowatt hour. They’re not telling you that out of your other pocket, you’re paying 345 billion dollars and burying 60,000 Americans every year.”
Being one of the foremost attorneys for the environment in the country, Kennedy also knew how to get the crowd riled up.
“If a foreign nation did to our country what the coal industry does to us every day,” he said, “we would consider it an act of war.”
The main message was clear: Once Portland lets coal companies into our city, it will be hard to get rid of them. “They are not coming here to bring you prosperity and jobs. They’re coming to ship their poison so they can poison the people in China. And that poison’s going to come back here and poison your salmon and your children, so don’t let it happen.”
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Photo by Emily Logan.
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