The Growing Coal Train Movement


Directed by Andy Miller and Robin Moore (2014)

Film Review

Momenta is about the growing grassroots movement to stop the coal trains that are creating environmental havoc in the Pacific Northwest. The movement owes its diversity to the devastation the trains create in nearly all the communities they pass through.

Hurt by the rapid shutdown of coal-fired power plants (for environmental and economic reasons), the US coal industry is seeking to cut their losses by selling as much coal as possible to China. Coal exported to China via Pacific deep water ports comes from Montana’s Powder River Basin. The coal trains carrying it it follow a circuitous route through Montana, Idaho, Oregon and Washington. They endanger the health and livelihoods of hundreds of communities along the way. Including Montana ranchers facing catastrophic water shortages as the mining companies deplete the Powder River Basin aquifer.

The number of coal trains varies between 18 and 120 a day depending on the community. The trains are uncovered and each sheds 31 tons of coal dust daily. The coal dust contains high levels of mercury and arsenic. This is in addition to the heavy metals contained in diesel particulates given off by the train engines produced by train engines. The latter substantially increases residents’ risk of asthma, heart attack and stroke.

In urban areas, such as Billings, Spokane, Portland, Longview, Seattle and Bellingham, the trains always travel through the poorest neighborhoods. In more sparsely populated areas, they contaminate pristine waterways essential to recreational fishing, water sports and tourism.

The documentary also emphasizes the need to reduce global reliance on coal to reduce overall carbon emissions. The coal industry is indifferent to these so-called “externalities.”

They refuse to cover their trains to reduce the spread of coal dust and are only willing to pay 5% of the $500 million infrastructure necessary to accommodate the increased train traffic. According to one activist, “all they care about is squeezing the last bit of profit out of a dying industry.”

The documentary concludes with a discussion – and a tour of a Marysville solar panel factory – of the beneficial effects of the renewable energy industry on the US economy. The latter creates far more jobs than exporting coal to China and is less dependent on fluctuations in the Chinese economy.

For more information on the anti-coal train movement go to

12 thoughts on “The Growing Coal Train Movement

  1. It seems as if the elite powers have a space ship waiting to take them away, after they have sucked dry this planet and its people. Maybe the esoteric type are right, maybe the elite are reptilian aliens, and they’re going back home after accomplishing their mission here?

    I still believe we are going to experience some kind of elite-perpetrated disaster that will wipe out most of humanity and take the planet back to a “void” state.


  2. Funny, I know of Bill and Beth McKibben (@32:00 into the video), not from environmental activism, but from wooden boats. If I remember correctly, Bill could be found in articles in Wooden Boat Magazine, concerning designs from my favorite naval Architect, the late Phil Bolger.


    • Oh yeah, ..Coal. Sometime before 2010 they started a “Clean Coal” campaign that touted Coal could be burned cleanly. Whether possible or not is irrelevant, when shareholders see their profit disappear into the additional costs of cleaning up emissions, they will soon look elsewhere for a profit. The export of Coal is a logical next step for these mining companies. Maybe making it really expensive to transport through your state will stop it. Just slap on regulation that’s impossible to meet, like the Marijuana Tax Stamp :))


      • The Marijuana Tax Stamp was meant to eradicate the plant. The Law stipulated that you needed to get the stamp to produce Hemp, catch was that it also required you produce the Hemp first, in other words, you’d have to incriminate yourself to meet the legal requirements.
        Harry J. Anslinger also crammed his Dupond Nylon fibre protection act through the UN in 1947 when Gov’t orders dropped. Automatically, all UN Charter members had to outlaw Hemp, though some Countries refuse to enforce all aspects of this Law as enforcement is not stipulated by the UN.

        In his book “boats with an open mind” Phil mentions the McKibben’s on page 318, 322, and 324. I can’t get the WBM articles from the 80’s and 90’s, my entire collection was stolen last year.


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