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Seattle turns out to oppose proposed coal port

Coal port detractors were the outspoken majority at Thursday evening's Seattle coal port hearing.
Attendees at Thursday evening's Seattle coal port hearing.

Attendees at Thursday evening's Seattle coal port hearing. Zachariah Bryan/ Ballard News Tribune


King Coal was not popular Thursday night in Seattle as the public meetings to set the scope of environmental review of a proposed coal-export terminal north of Bellingham drew to a close.

Over 2,000 people, heavily tilted toward opponents of the Gateway Pacific Terminal, talked, listened and waved signs before a panel of federal, state and Whatcom County officials charged with deciding what topics will be studied in a lengthy environmental impact process. The session, at the Washington Conference Center, was the largest of seven sessions stretching from Ferndale to Spokane.

Increasingly it zeroed in on the commodity itself — coal, some 48 millions tons to be shipped to Asia each year if the terminal is completed in perhaps five years. Climate change and the health hazards of coal dust from long coal trains were foremost for many speakers.

The Seattle meeting also drew a large representation of Native Americans. Lummi Nation speakers decried what they termed desecration of a burial site under a conveyor system, as well as danger to a traditional fishery. Swinnomish and Cheyenne speakers were also heard.

Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn, flanked by four city council members, called for environmental review of impacts on SoDo traffic and joined others in urging a broad study of climate change and the burning of coal in Asia. McGinn echoed others in noting, “This decision will affect our communities, our families and our quality of life for decades to come. We must make the right choice.” The mayor earlier ordered an economic review of the proposal.

With the Seattle hearing, some 8,000 people have attended the scoping meetings, an unprecedented turnout; with the exception of Ferndale, near the proposed terminal site, opponents have largely dominated the proceedings. They also prevailed at a Wednesday meeting in Vancouver, attended by about 800.

Supporters of the SSA Marine project, largely from rail, construction and longshore unions, have touted jobs to be created, and some Thursday also defended shipping of coal, contending that the jobs would go to other nations if the U.S. didn’t export the coal.

As the three-hour meeting drew to a close, the red-shirted opponents began to cheer speakers, ignoring rules for silent sign-waving. Still, forum monitors seemed to accept the exuberance of a crowd that for Thursday at least, clearly had the upper hand, chanting at one point, “We won’t do this” over and over.

In addition to the meetings, some 9,000 comments about the proposed coal port have been recorded online. Online statements — which the agencies insist will have equal weight with the spoken testimony — may be recorded here, and also viewed. Online testimony closes Jan. 21, after which the agencies are expected to take at least a month or two to recommend a scope of study.

Floyd J. McKay, professor of journalism emeritus at Western Washington University, was a print and broadcast journalist in Oregon for three decades. Recipient of a DuPont-Columbia Broadcast Award for documentaries, and a Nieman Fellowship at Harvard, he is also a historian and holds a Ph.D. from the University of Washington. He resides in Bellingham and can be reached at floydmckay@comcast.net.


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Comments:

Posted Fri, Dec 14, 9:47 a.m. Inappropriate

Gee Floyd why don't you report the reasons why they are there, instead of skimming the surface, I thought Crosscut was suppose to be different from the Times and their superficial articles... You don't mention the Herring or the Salmon or the Orca's. Did you even listen to the speakers? Do you mention why all of a sudden there are proposal for 4 coal ports in the NW?? Do you mention the size and pollution just from the 1,000 foot long ships.
The reason for my questions, is that I actually listened to the speakers and learned so many things that are never reported in Crosscut or any other newspaper or news station. Its like the old SNL joke, "and now for a partial score, Seahawks 17"
Why don't you write an article on why that is? Oh right, because your editor won't allow it.

Blake

Posted Fri, Dec 14, 10:54 a.m. Inappropriate

You nailed it when you said that the hearings are more about "coal" than about "exports." Coal is certainly not a fuel source I want to see used to produce power, and exporting coal may have significant environmental impacts to our state and region. Transportation - whether by coal train or ships - has impacts and they need to be addressed and,if possible, mitigated.

At the same time, this is the best fund raising issue to come down the road in a long, long time. The campaign to enact C02 emissions and fight global warming has cooled. Significantly. And "coal exports" is a great opportunity to reengage and replenish the coffers at the same time.

Whatever the outcome, there will be litigation and the coal ports will not be built for years, if at all. But until then, there is a new rallying cry and a new campaign. To the ramparts!

Posted Fri, Dec 14, 11:30 a.m. Inappropriate

I have yet to see anyone explain how any local or state authority can override the U.S. constitution's interstate commerce clause and stop this. Until I do, I will regard this as one more in the long series of empty "progressive" virtue mongering.

NotFan

Posted Fri, Dec 14, 11:53 a.m. Inappropriate

What? What? The Commerce Clause confers power on Congress to regulate interstate commerce. Where Congress has not acted, the states are free to impose their own rules. Congress has not passed a law mandating approval of coal ports in Washington or Oregon. Q.E.D. The states retain authority under the 10th Amendment and their respective police powers to regulate coal port siting within their boundaries.

woofer

Posted Fri, Dec 14, 4:48 p.m. Inappropriate

If the state can put stop lights to regulate traffic entering interstate highways, why can't it do the same for coal trains?

Steve E.

Posted Fri, Dec 14, 6:23 p.m. Inappropriate

You're wrong (as well as snarky). Washington State and local governments might not have authority to stop the rail portion of the project, but the coal is worthless if it cannot be offloaded at a locally permitted facility and put on a ship sitting on top of state owned tidelands.

And furthermore, this is all about politics; if all the people opposed to the project actually force the feds to conduct a fair assessment, and keep their public weight against the project, it is quite possible the agencies won't permit it. Aside from the years of litigation that are certain to follow.

louploup

Posted Sat, Dec 15, 10:44 p.m. Inappropriate

"if all the people opposed to the project actually force the feds to conduct a fair assessment, and keep their public weight against the project,"

And for those who agree, the best way to assure a fair assessment, is to politely demand just that at the link that Floyd provides near his close. No expertise required.

afreeman

Posted Sun, Dec 16, 6:35 p.m. Inappropriate

" ... and put on a ship sitting on top of state owned tidelands"

Perhaps the loading of coal from train to barge would not mean docks with pilings into state owned tidelands would be used. If a floating barge is utilized, and nothing is built over the state owned tidelands, or if docks are built over privately owned tidelands, it would seem that the tidelands agrument won't hold water.

The water atop the tidelands always allows for all navigation across private or public tidelands in Washington State.

Posted Fri, Dec 14, 5:26 p.m. Inappropriate

"Over 2,000 people, heavily tilted toward opponents of the Gateway Pacific Terminal..." These are the very same people who picket Paine Field when Boeing prepares to export one of its carbon spewing vehicles, right?

kieth

Posted Sat, Dec 15, 12:26 a.m. Inappropriate

Well, it's not quite the same, but I do take your point. How many of us have given up air travel? How many of us even know of anyone, anyone who can afford air travel that is, giving it up? Anyone?.....

Unless we all start making personal changes to stop burning things, everything else is just noise.

Posted Sat, Dec 15, 3:46 p.m. Inappropriate

If there were non-stop dust spewing trains of Boeing jets being transported throughout the state, and causing major delays in our infrastructure for the sole reason of benefitting Goldman-Sachs, their partner China, and foreign/multinational corporations, I would be against that.

jhande

Posted Sat, Dec 15, 10:50 p.m. Inappropriate

Will be interesting to see just how far the EPA gets with lowering soot emissions from 15 to 12 whatevers.

afreeman

Posted Sat, Dec 15, 4 p.m. Inappropriate

The Boeing turbines are more analogous to the Chinese furnaces than to the coal trains...which I think means my comparison is rather mild. And, of course, 737 bodies do travel by rail through Seattle. They probably do not cause any "major delays" but they do use the rail system and, rail capacity being fungible, contribute to whatever rail congestion we have.

kieth

Posted Sun, Dec 16, 1:48 p.m. Inappropriate

Funny how we're not seeing the usual fake "progressives" rise up to condemn the "NIMBYs." That's reserved for anyone who opposes the latest scheme to ruin one of Seattle's neighborhoods, or Lake Union.

NotFan

Posted Mon, Dec 17, 10:58 p.m. Inappropriate

What are you quacking about? If you're going to do your tired rant, can you at least make sense?

louploup

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