Coal-Free Washington Campaign Heats Up in Bellingham
On the last day of May, more than 800 people turned out for an information fair and rally in Bellingham, Wa., about a planned coal export terminal in nearby Cherry Creek. Above, Sierra Club members join other concerned citizens at the Bellingham rally.
The event, organized by RE-Sources, a Bellingham-based environmental education center, featured a talk by best-selling author and 350.org co-founder Bill McKibben about coal exports, climate disruption, and the power of community action. That's McKibben above, just right of center in blue jacket, and below with local residents at the rally.
The following day, June 1, Bellingham Mayor Dan Pike hosted a community meeting on the proposed Gateway Pacific Terminal that drew an estimated 300 residents. Pike said it would take a regional effort to stop it, and suggested that the Sierra Club gear up on a statewide level. Betsy Gross, an activist with the Club's Mt. Baker Group, took the opportunity to tell the mayor that the Club already has Coal-Free Washington staff in place specifically for this fight.
Volunteers and staff with the Beyond Coal Campaign and Mt. Baker Group contacted all group members and played a key role in turning people out for the two events. Club activists tabled and spoke at both gatherings.
The Sierra Club's No Coal Export Campaign kicked into high gear with a May 4 meeting in the Bellingham High School auditorium that drew nearly 300 residents. The Gateway Pacific Terminal, proposed by SSA Marine and the Burlington Northern/Santa Fe Railroad, would be the largest coal export facility in North America and would ship an estimated 24 million metric tons of coal per year through the Cherry Point facility.
Washington Sierra Club activist Betsy Gross was among the ralliers at the RE-Sources event on May 31, where the Beyond Coal Campaign had a booth set up. "The place was packed!" says Gross. "People were swarming all over the tables, upset as all get-out about the coal trains, gobbling up every bit of information we had out, wanting to talk, wanting more information, and signing up to volunteer."
Featured speaker McKibben, below, told the crowd, "There's virtually no place on the continent that's done a better job of showing us how to live locally. But now, by quirk of geography, Bellingham is going to have to make some decisions about what kind of role it wants to play globally."
"McKibben came over to our booth to thank us for all that the Sierra Club is doing to stop the mining and burning of coal nationwide, and congratulated us on our local efforts," Gross says. "Then when he spoke he mentioned the Beyond Coal Campaign and encouraged everyone to get involved. So after he finished speaking we were swarmed once again, with more people wanting to get on our mailing lists and asking lots of questions about Beyond Coal.
"We encouraged everyone to attend Mayor Pike's meeting the next day, and boy, did they come!" Gross says. "The Mayor's event was standing room only. A lot of people showed up who I would guess are not regulars at these kinds of events. Over 100 people offered their thoughts and ideas, including several union people who got up and said this is the first time they've not been able to support a union cause."
Also speaking were several health professionals, who said Whatcom County is a magnet for medical professionals because of its high-quality health care, but if Cherry Point and Bellingham become dirty coal towns it will be more difficult to recruit new doctors.
Below, Bellingham Mayor Dan Pike.
Photo courtesy of City of Bellingham
On June 3, Mayor Pike announced that he will fight the Gateway Pacific Terminal project, saying the environmental, health, and economic costs are too high, and the jobs the project promises to deliver are not enough to make up for those costs.
"We have examined the benefits proponents say this operation will bring to our community and have considered the risks," Pike said. "While every resident of the country certainly agrees that more local family-supporting jobs would be a good thing, those same wise locals would also add, 'But at what cost?' [SSA Marine] has 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 I want to see. By any calculation, the proposed coal-dependent terminal at Cherry Point does not add up."
Sierra Club organizers Robin Everett and Kathleen Ridihalgh and Mt. Baker Group Chair Lynn Doremus and Conservation Chair Terry VanAssche were instrumental in organizing a strong Sierra Club presence and turning out so many people to both the RE-Sources rally and Mayor Pike's public meeting.
"We have a remarkable team of staff and volunteers ramping up the fight to keep coal from leaving US shores and poisoning any community," says Cesia Kearns. "These events are just the beginning." That's Kearns with Robin Everett, below.
To learn more about the proposed coal export terminals in Bellingham and Longview, Wa., and other potential ports in Washington and Oregon, go to www.coalfreewashington.org.
All photos by Bray Hayden Photography unless otherwise noted.