Directed by Andy Miller and Robin Moore (2014)
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 http://www.powerpastcoal.org/