Northwest Coal Exports

Coal companies are targeting the Pacific Northwest as the gateway for export terminals that would send staggering quantities of U.S. coal to China.

Taken together these projects represent an enormous shift toward dirty energy, in a region that is known for being clean and green. And although the fight is taking place in the Pacific Northwest, the consequences for our global climate mean that people and wildlife around the planet will be impacted by the results. 

How will the railways, ports and mines impact wildlife and habitat?

Railways, ports and mines all interfere with wildlife and wildlife habitat. If coal exports in the Pacific Northwest continue to expand, our wildlife will be increasingly more threatened. From orca whales to elk, there is a wide range of wildlife that falls in the crosshairs of coal exports.

      Orca jumping     Black Footed Ferret     Sage Grouse     Mule Deer  

Click on this interactive map to see where the proposed railway lines and barge routes will intersect with a wide range of wildlife species habitat.

Potential Impacts on Wildilfe and Habitat of Planned NW Coal Export Railways

Coal Train

Faced with stagnant demand for coal in the U.S., some of the world's largest coal companies want to ship millions of tons of dirty coal per year through the Pacific Northwest to China and other Asian nations looking to feed their rapidly growing energy appetite.

Coal would be strip mined from the Powder River Basin in Montana and Wyoming -- America's largest source of coal. It would then be moved in open train cars to ports along the Columbia River and Puget Sound before being shipped overseas to be burned in Chinese coal plants. Arch Coal, Peabody Energy, and other coal giaats are trying to ship over 100 million tons or more of coal per year through Washington State and Oregon. That’s enough to fill more than 10,000 trains a year, each over a mile long. 

The uncovered, coal-laden rail cars would run through sensitive ecological areas (like the Columbia River Gorge and Glacier National Park) to three proposed terminals in Oregon and Washington. Increased train and tanker traffic, air and water pollution from diesel and coal dust, carbon pollution that fuels climate change, and disturbance of wildlife habitat combine to make these proposals some of the most environmentally threatening projects in the country.

The National Wildlife Federation is working to:

  • Fight new coal mining in the Powder River Basin and prevent the permitting of new port projects on the West coast that would be needed to support increased coal exports;

  • Engage with Tribal communities in the Pacific Northwest to halt or minimize the threats posed by the expansion of coal exports;

  • Collaborate with sportsmen and local organizations to build a regionally powerful and nationally relevant network to combat the threat of expanded coal mining and exports on wildlife and our environment.

To learn more about our coalition's work against coal exports see

Reports and Fact Sheets

Issue Brief: Accounting for Carbon Pollution from Coal Mining on Federal Lands (pdf)

Coal's Climate Legacy at Home and Abroad

FACT SHEET: Mercury Pollution from Coal-fired Power Plants (pdf)

Coal-fired power plants are by far the largest source of mercury pollution in America, placing our public health and wildlife at grave risk.

REPORT: Poisoning Wildlife: The Reality of Mercury Pollution (pdf)

Our dependence on coal has left a legacy that is being documented in wildlife nationwide.

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How does exporting coal threaten Puget Sound orcas, and how can we help?