More than 2,000 people showed up Thursday to tell regulators what they think should be considered in the environmental review of a proposed coal export terminal near Bellingham, Wash. If built, it could be the largest such facility on the West Coast.
At maximum capacity, the Gateway Pacific Terminal would draw up to nine trains a day en route from mines in Wyoming and Montana. They would pass through northern Idaho, Spokane, and then follow along the Columbia River to the Portland-Vancouver metro area and then through communities along the I-5 corridor including Seattle before arriving at the proposed terminal site north of Bellingham.
The crowd was overwhelmingly anti-coal. Many carried signs and wore red t-shirts with “Power Past Coal” and “No Coal Export” slogans written across the front.
“If this does go through you’ll witness firsthand what happened in the 1700s, 1800s…,” said Jay Julius, Chairman of the Lummi Tribe. “You will see rape in the first degree of our treaty and it’s not acceptable.”
Lummi tribal lands abut the site of the proposed terminal at Cherry Point and tribal leaders say they are worried about the impacts of coal dust and increased tanker traffic in their fishing areas.
Leaders from the Swinomish and Tulalip tribes also spoke out against the terminal, alongside a local fisherman and several local politicians – including Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn, King County Executive Dow Constantine and State Rep. Reuven Carlyle, D-Seattle.
Speakers were chosen by a lottery after it was recently revealed that coal backers paid people to stand in line to hold speaking spots at two other recent public meetings.
Outside the meeting, coal export backers held a gathering in support of the terminal project. The group included representatives from several labor unions as well as the mayors of Ferndale and Lynden, which are near the site of the proposed terminal.
“What we cannot allow is for opponents of this project to set a new precedent that will ruin the economics of this state in each of our communities,” said Brandon Housekeeper with the Association of Washington Businesses.
“We are in support of this project for a number of reasons,” echoed Larry Brown of the Aerospace Machinists, IAM Local 751. “The first of which is jobs. Good jobs in our communities are needed.”
The jobs-versus-environment argument is not so simple when it comes to the impacts of exporting coal through the Northwest, says Seattle fisherman Pete Knutson.
“There’s a qualitative difference between a job based on a one-time exploitation of fossil fuel and a livelihood based on a sustainable harvest of a renewable resource,” said Knutson, who is a fisherman and teaches anthropology at Seattle Central Community College.
More than 9,000 public comments have been submitted at this point. People have until Jan. 21 to tell the Army Corps of Engineers what they think should be included in the environmental review. The Corps will release a scoping report later in 2013 and will then start to put together the formal Environmental Impact Statement process.
The Corps has not yet announced whether they will do a cumulative assessment that takes into account the region-wide impact of the Gateway Pacific Terminal. Nor has it decided whether to assess the cumulative effects of the five coal export terminals that are now proposed for the Northwest.
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