Coal-for-China debate burns its way into Bellingham's mayor race

Update: Bellingham Mayor Dan Pike today announced his opposition to plans for a coal port near the city. Earlier in the week, the  growing debate over the global warming implications of shipping coal to China brought big turnouts to meetings there.

Author Bill McKibben speaks in Bellingham against a proposed coal-export port.

Author Bill McKibben speaks in Bellingham against a proposed coal-export port. John Servais, NWCitizen.com

The site of the proposed Gateway Pacific Terminal

The site of the proposed Gateway Pacific Terminal Courtesy of Gateway Pacific Terminal

Former state Rep. Kelli Linville is running for mayor of Bellingham

Former state Rep. Kelli Linville is running for mayor of Bellingham

Bellingham Mayor Dan Pike

Bellingham Mayor Dan Pike City of Bellingham

Bellingham Mayor Dan Pike said Friday (June 3) that he will work to oppose a bulk shipping terminal at Cherry Point north of the city that plans to export some 48 million tons of coal a year to China. Pike commented after a pair of public meetings this week that brought out large-scale opposition to the proposed Gateway Pacific Terminal.

Although Pike has stated in the past that he wants environmental review of the $500 million project to go beyond the terminal site and include Bellingham and other impacted communities, his statement moves beyond that stated concern to outright opposition to the project as it is now planned. It is the heavy reliance on coal — nearly 90 percent of planned exports — and the resultant rail traffic that focuses his concerns.

Pike's concern about coal and rail impacts is echoed by his chief opponent in the fall mayoral election, former state Rep. Kelli Linville, who lives with her family some 75 yards from the main switching yard in Bellingham. Linville said she has always been an opponent of burning coal and supported the state's "no coal" policies; she also raises concerns about additional rail traffic.

She said, however, that she will wait for the public process to comment at an official on-the-record public hearing, rather than state her final position now. "I support the public process; let it work its way through," she told Crosscut. She noted that it would be very difficult for terminal developers to mitigate impacts to local communities, which could include major upgrades to rail crossings and other improvements.

The difference between Pike and Linville can be boiled down to timing and emphasis. Pike on Feb. 28 stated that he would await the formal process before taking a firm position on the coal port; Linville has maintained that stance throughout.

Pike said Friday he simply sees no chance that Gateway Pacific, to be operated by SSA Marine and the Burlington Northern Santa Fe railroad, which would transport the coal from the Powder River Basin to Cherry Point, are willing to consider helping local communities mitigate the considerable impact of the coal shipments.

"I hoped they would make a commitment to provide meaningful mitigations or — even better — a willingness consider other commodities, and not rely exclusively on coal exports for the terminal's financial engine," Pike said.

"Instead, these proponents brought denial of any potential harms and blatant defiance that they should change their plans in any way. In fact, it has become public knowledge that they have signed a multi-year deal with Montana's Peabody Coal to ship at least 24 million tons of coal from our sensitive shores as their major focus of business for the foreseeable future.

"That is not a future that I want to see. By any calculation, the proposed coal-dependent terminal at Cherry Point does not add up. I will, therefore, work with citizen groups, other elected officials, businesses and the health care community to oppose the current plan for the proposed Gateway Pacific Terminal."

Linville said she was in agreement with Pike on the matter of mitigating the impact of the coal shipments, and is also concerned that coal is to be the major export from the terminal.

Commenting to The Bellingham Herald in May, Linville noted that she had supported an earlier plan to build an export terminal at Cherry Point, but the 1992 project did not mention exporting coal. "I did not support a dedicated coal port," she said. "I'm opposed to a single-purpose port. I support a final pier up there that supports multiple exports."

She also said she fought for steps to phase out coal-fired power in this state while she was a legislator. "I don't support coal-burning," she said. "I would much rather be exporting clean energy technology to China. ... We should be investing in what we want to have happen, instead of fighting what we don't want to have happen."


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Comments:

Posted Thu, Jun 2, 2:12 p.m. Inappropriate

Thank you for covering this issue here in Bellingham. It is very important to our community to have these issues discussed. While Dan Pike may be turning 180 degrees this week, as the political winds change, his first response to the coal trains was that he was willing to support it. See what he said in February about the coal trains:

http://www.bellinghamherald.com/2011/02/22/1875168/bellingham-mayor-region-needs.html

From the article: Mayor Dan Pike said he's willing to support SSA Marine's Gateway Pacific cargo terminal proposed for Cherry Point, as long as those who will profit from it are willing to do what's needed to make up for potential negative impacts."The jobs are nothing to scoff at," Pike said.

It's important that we keep our political leaders accountable, and it appears our current mayor jumped to some conclusions fairly early on. It makes me wonder what he really thinks about the issue, or if he's just saying what he thinks is popular at the time. It makes me concerned that he's not the right person to be negotiating on behalf of Bellingham when the time comes to get what we need from mitigation.

SusanG

Posted Thu, Jun 2, 4:33 p.m. Inappropriate

Before everyone gets on the NIMBY (Not-In-My-Backyard) train, let's have some reason and logic. If folks are objecting to the burning of coal, China will simply buy it from Australia or elsewhere. If people are objecting to the trains passing by, then realize that IF the Canadians added or increased their export facilities the exact same trains would pass through town but be headed to the boarder with no income or benefit for the local community. If they object to the local environmental effects, then the need to visit a state-of-the-art facility and see what the impacts really are. Then they need to decide if the income, jobs and overall economic benefits are worth the impacts. IF people would really look at the facts and not the emotions, I think the project would have a real "green" light.

Wind and solar are not going to replace coal in the next few generations. For example a wind project in Washington State set a record fro producing more than 3,000 megawatts of electricity in February. However the very next day it only produced 200 MW. Do you want power to be provided to you r home or work some days and not others? You don’t if you want a reliable economy and want to get paid for every scheduled work day.

Think it through before you throw yourself and your neighbors on the tracks in from of the trains.

LaMarTEK

Posted Fri, Jun 3, 1:37 p.m. Inappropriate

To continue LaMarTEK's point, its really futile to think that anyone's action can possibly make any difference about anything. Its all hopeless. Everything. So, the next time you have the urge to do something that's not nice or even downright evil, go right ahead, because if you don't someone else will. And that way, both you and the other person can do evil. Its the only sensible thing to do.

N-I-M-B-Y = N-O-P-E
Not In My Back Yard
Not On Planet Earth

Steve E.

Posted Fri, Jun 3, 1:42 p.m. Inappropriate

Of course, the real issue that's going to be the major conflict is the same as for the (now withdrawn) Cowlitz County coal terminal. That is the impacts of burning the coal, both those that come back here (particulate pollution and the regional impacts of climate change) and those that are more widely distributed (climate change).

The reality is that the writing is on the wall for new coal plants in the US and the industry is desperate to tap into the asian market.

P.S. The legal issue of whether environmental review can be limited to just site-specific impacts is so well settled in law that its amazing that anyone can claim otherwise with a straight face.

Steve E.

Posted Fri, Jun 3, 7:49 p.m. Inappropriate

In 1972 a group of academics published a seminal study entitled "Limits to Growth". The study used the emerging methods of System Dynamics to evaluate various scenarios on how economic growth would proceed over the next century. In this study, society's use of natural resources, its growth in population, and the effects of pollution on economy were considered. The unique aspect of the System Dynamics approach was that the interactions between the items under study could be evaluated. "Limits To Growth" demonstrated how populations could overshoot and economies crash due to exhaustion of resources or excess pollution. The business as usual scenario predicted constraints to growth--energy, pollution, resources--becoming evident mid-century, 2030-2050.

Almost forty years since "Limits To Growth" was published, it is surprising to see how close we are to the predictions. We most certainly have passed or are about to pass Peak Oil. The quantity of biomass extracted from the oceans has reached a maximum. Global warming is appearing to be severe as the most pessimistic scenarios. Our global financial economy increasingly appears brittle requiring drastic intervention. Population growth remains unchecked with the number of those in dire poverty not changing even as the economy grows.

The debate in Bellingham exemplifies the response that we might take as we struggle with the end of growth. On one hand, the titans of corporate power--Peabody Coal, SSA Marine, Goldman-Sachs, Warren Buffett--offer the false promise of continued economic growth. Such promises though now appear to be empty as the financialization of the economy means co-opted democracy, increasing income disparities, off-shoring of jobs, and disregard for environmental consequences.

Contrast these titans with the Bellingham-based organization Business Alliance for Local Living Economies (BALLE). BALLE is an organization comprised of 22,000 independent businesses throughout the US and Canada that are committed to "...leveraging the power of local networks to build a web of economies that are community-based, green, and fair - local living economies." BALLE's vision of a local living economy consists of: one that thinks local first, increases self-reliance, shares prosperity, builds community, works with nature, celebrates our diversity, and measures what matters--creativity, knowledge, relationships.

With the debate over the coal terminal, we have a choice...business as usual that leads to environmental destruction and broken society, or working to build local economies and strong community networks.

Jobs associated with coal export are not lasting jobs. Investment in local jobs and community are.

So if you knew that there really were "limits to growth", where should we be putting our investments?

Posted Sat, Jun 4, 11:34 p.m. Inappropriate

I'm thinking that China doesn't really care what Bellingham or any seaport in Washington State thinks. They want to get their hands on coal. We shut one door but there are many more available and one or more of them will say sure. All of the reasons and concerns expressed here are from a society that has all the gadgets and whistles it wants or desires. China and those other growing economies will, rightfully so, believe that we don't want them to have the same standard of living we have.

It's not like we practice what we preach.

Djinn

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