Huge Turnout in Washington State for Hearing on Coal Export Terminal
On Saturday, October 27, an estimated 2,000 people stood in line for hours in the pouring rain in Bellingham, Washington, to participate in the first of seven public hearings to gather public feedback on the proposed Cherry Point coal export terminal near Bellingham.
"Citizens opposing the terminal overwhelmingly dominated the hearing," says Cesia Kearns, an organizer with the Sierra Club's Beyond Coal campaign. "Only about 30 people spoke in favor of the project, and most of them were Gateway Pacific Terminal staff."
The Sierra Club and its partners in the Power Past Coal coalition have been preparing for over a year for the "scoping hearings," which will define the scope of the environmental impact statement for the Cherry Point terminal. The Club and its allies succeeded in securing multiple scoping hearings throughout Washington State.
"We set out on to make this a state-wide and regional fight, and to take into account all the impacts of the proposal, from mine to rail and port to plant," says Kearns. "We've made the scoping hearings a major priority, focusing especially on the first hearing in Bellingham, which has now set the tone for the other hearings."
The Club has been working for the last year-and-a-half to educate the public in the Pacific Northwest about the risks and folly of transporting more than 100 million tons of coal a year in open train cars from Wyoming and Montana to five proposed coal export terminals on the Washington and Oregon coasts. To date, Seattle, Portland, and numerous other cities and locales in Washington and Oregon have passed resolutions opposing the coal export terminals.
The events of the day began with a press conference and a rally featuring local farmers, families, small-business owners, local fishermen, a Whatcom County councilmember, and members of the Lummi Nation of Native Americans.
Lummi Business Council member Jay Julius started off the rally by saying coal ship traffic to and from the terminal would be disastrous for fishing from Cherry Point to Point Roberts, Washington—some of the richest commercial fishing areas for Indian and non-Indian salmon fishermen alike.
Julius added that the coal export terminal represented a "criminal" disturbance of an ancestral Lummi village at Cherry Point, especially when the tribe is still smarting over graves being unearthed elsewhere in recent years.
Julius was followed by Lummi Nation Chairman Cliff Cultee, above at center, who said, "We always fight to protect and preserve the resources for the next seven generations. Coal is a step in the wrong direction. ... I just want to stand united and protect this area and say no to coal."
Former Bellingham mayor Dan Pike said regulatory agencies should get information on all the negative impacts to the region, not just Bellingham and Whatcom County. He argued that the disruptions from rail traffic will hamper other job-creating activities. "This is a loser just on the jobs side," he said. "The Port of Seattle complains about the blockage from a basketball stadium, but this would be many times more impactful."
Inside Squalicum High School, where the hearing was held, hundreds of citizens were given two minutes to share their views with staff from Whatcom County, the Washington State Department of Ecology, and the Army Corps of Engineers.
[To view photos of the hearing, visit this gallery in the Bellingham Herald.]
Among the citizens who spoke was Nicole Brown, a mother and co-owner of the Moondance Farm in nearby Wickersham. "The markets that exist for our organic produce rely on the healthy reputation of our air and land and water," she said. "Runoff from coal does get into the water and the soil. When it's safer to eat food out of a can than your own backyard, that concerns me."
Judy Hopkinson of Bellingham spoke of the possible need to build railroad overpasses to unsnarl traffic problems. "We can't afford to be careless or to allow hidden costs to cripple our tax base 10 years down the road. We could be looking at billions of dollars in mitigation costs that could be foisted off on the taxpayers."
Some people who had showed up to testify in support of the terminal were "converted" during the hearing, removing their Gateway Pacific Terminal stickers and putting on Power Past Coal's red t-shirts and "No Coal Exports" stickers.
As reported in the Daily Kos, one of the most moving of all the public comments came from an 83-year-old woman who followed more than 75 other speakers. She explained that she had signed up to comment in favor of the coal export terminal because she thought it would create jobs opportunities for her grandchildren. Fighting tears, she said that the comments she had listened to had completely changed her mind, and it would be better if the terminal was never built.
Cesia Kearns gives kudos to Sierra Club colleagues Kathleen Ridihalgh, Robin Everett, Crystal Gartner, Laura Stevens, Krista Collard, and Nathan Riding for their work leading up to the scoping hearing—and all throughout the campaign to stop the coal export terminals.
All photos by Paul Anderson.