Word came from Multnomah County Chairman Jeff Cogen this morning that the county health department will do what no other agency has yet agreed to do: Study the potential environmental effects of what could be a dramatic increase in the number of dust-spewing coal export trains slicing through North Portland.

The study was formally announced this morning, and also written up, earlier, by the Oregonian. From Cogen's office:

The coal industry wants to build export stations in the Northwest and ship the fossil fuel from Montana and Wyoming through Multnomah County. Local, state and federal officials are concerned, saying that coal dust could contaminate areas along the way. Coal dust has been known to cause bronchitis, COPD, emphysema, asthma and other chronic diseases that affect breathing. No one has called for a health assessment study until now. Jeff Cogen, in his role as the Chair of the Board of Health, calls for an immediate study on whether coal is harmful to residents of Multnomah County and what the dangers might be.his area.

Before calling for his own study, Cogen this summer had asked the US Army Corps of Engineers to do one, too. The O—in a story that gives a very wide airing to coal advocates' minimization of pollution ills—notes that neither the feds nor the state have so far agreed to conduct an examination. Hence, Cogen's concrete, tangible decision, which comes just before the Portland City Council votes on a non-binding resolution "opposing" coal trains.

"We don't have the ability to stop trains and we don't the ability to force (railroads) to cover the trains," Cogen told the O. "We do have the ability to direct light at the problem and demand protective measures."