Case Study: Millennium Coal Export

Columbia Riverkeeper works with people in dozens of communities—from rural to urban—who share the same goals: Protect the health of their families and the places they love. 


Case Study: Millennium Coal Export

Brett VandenHeuvel, Columbia Riverkeeper's Executive Director, shares memories of the coal campaign
coal victory artwork, art by nina montenegro
Art by Nina Montenegro.

I remember vividly the phone call in 2010. A tip about plans to build a Columbia River shipping terminal to export coal to China. Big money, big players, big problem. I hung up and banged my head on my desk. And left it there. How could we fight big coal?

Jump ahead two years: nearly two thousand people in red ‘no coal’ shirts cheered and waved signs as rain fell on our rally in Longview, Washington. The speakers—a local doctor, pastor, business owner, and Montana rancher—addressed the crowd about the risks of dirty coal. Surveying the sea of red shirts, a longtime resident of Longview said: "I’ve never been so proud of my community."

Jump ahead again, to September 26, 2017. Washington’s Department of Ecology denied a key permit, killing the last coal export terminal proposed on the Columbia. Sure, the victory was final in 2017, but that rainy day in Longview may have been the moment we truly won. The passionate local activists, the massive crowd, the record-setting number of written comments, and that new-found sense of pride all led Washington to deny the permit. How did we fight Big Coal? Together. We helped build Power Past Coal, a coalition of non-profit, business, health, and faith communities, partnering with tribal nations, working with a common vision and strategy to defeat coal export. Together, we purposefully designed the coalition along the rail lines—from the Powder River Basin to the shipping ports and dozens of communities in between. We helped generate an unprecedented grassroots organizing effort to pack public hearings, earn media stories, and build local leadership.

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