Proposed Coal Export Terminal in Washington State Draws Big Opposition
On March 20, some 800 citizens packed the Bellingham High School Theater on a cold, wet evening to learn how they can make their voices heard about a controversial proposed coal export terminal near Bellingham that would ship up to 48 million tons of U.S. coal annually to Asia.
The Sierra Club's Coal-Free Washington campaign and partner group ReSources organized a demonstration outside the high school, above. Ralliers wore dust masks to represent the danger coal presents to public health, and community activists, tribal representatives, and local fishermen spoke to the crowd.
The purpose of the "pre-scoping" meeting, hosted by environmental regulators, was to take questions from the public and inform them how they can be involved in shaping the Environmental Impact Statement for the project.
"The crowd was overwhelmingly opposed to the coal export terminal," says Sierra Club organizer Robin Everett. "During the question and answer period, regulators were overwhelmed by an informed community who asked tough and skeptical questions."
For the last year, the Sierra Club's Mt. Baker Group and Beyond Coal campaign have been working with other local groups to educate the public about the health threats associated with coal dust, the environmental cost of mining and burning coal, and the need to move away from coal toward clean, renewable energy sources.
The first question of the evening at the pre-scoping meeting—"Why do we need to go through all this when it's clear no one wants this?"—prompted thunderous applause from the audience.
Several citizens said the Gateway Pacific Terminal—proposed to be built by Seattle-based SSA Marine within the Cherry Point Aquatic Reserve near Bellingham—would harm water quality and herring spawning grounds in the area. Greatly increased train traffic and the accompanying coal dust pollution was also a major concern.
"This is just the beginning of a statewide—and we hope, region-wide—review of this dirty and dangerous project," Everett says. "We expect the scoping comment period to begin in early summer, and we will be participating in multiple hearings around the state."
The Gateway Pacific Terminal would store up to 2.75 million metric tons of coal and other goods in an open-air 80-acre stockpile.
All photos by Paul Anderson