Proposed Coal Port Stirs Up Bellingham, WA

Written by Scott Parkin

Topics: Coal

share this story
facebook twitter email stumble upon
Get Energy Alerts
Puget Sound

Puget Sound photo by Flickr user alins74.

Lots of attention is being focused on coal exports in the Northwest these days.

In Cherry Point, WA, near Bellingham, the biggest coal company in the world, St. Louis-based Peabody Energy, has signed an agreement with the biggest port logistics company in the world, Seattle-based SSA Marine, to build another coal export terminal, the Gateway Pacific Terminal. The terminal could ship up to 54 million tons of coal to Asian markets.

South of there in Longview, WA, Ambre Energy and Arch Coal’s efforts to build a coal terminal have gotten a lot of attention, which has resulted in Ambre pulling the permit requests. Ambre stated that it plans to reapply once an environmental impact study is done and has moved to secure a transfer station of sorts upriver in Boardman, OR to limit rail traffic in Lonview, but for now the project is stalled out.

In Bellingham, environmentalists and community members are working to cause the coal exporters the same sort of headaches. Groups are organizing to stop Peabody and SSA Marine’s efforts to turn Whatcom County into the West Coast hub for Big Coal with pressure on local and state government.

Since April, local environmentalists have been showing up to public debates and community meetings to speak out against the coal terminals:

  • In late April, over 350 people showed up to a public debate between pro-coal and anti-coal advocates. The pro-coal camp argues that the terminals will bring up to 213 to 280 permanent longshore jobs. The anti-coalistas argue that the increase in rail traffic will be detrimental for the local communities and towns, and that coal in general causes adverse effects on public health and the global climate.
  • During an event in early May, over 250 people packed a local high school to discuss the coal terminals with Bellingham Mayor Dan Pike. During the exchange, Pike said he wouldn’t take a position on national policy. This statement resulted in one heckler in the audience shouting, “You’re a wimp!”
  • And then last night, Bellingham Mayor Dan Pike had a community forum which turned out 300 community members, the majority of them opposed to the terminal, to talk about the terminal.

SSA Marine and Peabody using the jobs argument has labor and state and local politicians on their side, but thus far these coal terminal initiatives have also allowed environmentalists and community leaders to demonize Big Coal in the public and media arenas.

6 Comments For This Post I'd Love to Hear Yours!

  1. TT says:

    The coal industry is not viable without society assuming the costs of the adverse environmental impacts associated with coal. The industry admits as much when it says that treating power plant coal ash as hazmat presents an “insurmountable problem.”

    If shipping 54 million tons per year, that is 540,000 rail cars passing through communities throughout Washington. Consider congestion, noise & pollution and also once a toe-hold is established, the port will be expanded.

    Aside from the carbon dioxide emissions from burning this coal in China, where do you think the mercury is going? Right back to Washington state.

    The Hoh river valley in Olympic National Park had some of the cleanest air in the world up to the turn of the last century. China started bringing a coal fired power plant online each week over the last decade and about five years into the 21st century the fish caught in Hoh lake, in the center of ONP, began to carry a mercury consumption warning.

    Bellingham would do much better by passing on this proposed uneconomic, 19th century industry, coal terminal in exchange for a subsidy to start a 21st century, green industry in the area – a win-win.

    Bellingham should be looking into the adverse health effects caused from living downwind from the two large oil refineries in Anacortes. According to Terry Tamminen, former secretary of California EPA, increased rates of cancer and lung disease can be mapped 30 miles downwind from oil refineries.

    Coal is collective suicide.

  2. Scott says:

    How obvious does it have to be? These mega banks/corporations only have one agenda…profits. That’s it. They could give a rat’s ass about the public’s health, the health of the environment, mercury in our seafood, the demise of the earth, or human welfare. They are pathological liars, drunk on power, money, competition, and greed. They are dangerous and need to be stopped. Bellingham will simply be used to increase the profits and wealth of simply a few billionaires, while the quality of Bellingham is decreased for the rest of us. The jobs argument is bullshit, there will not be a substantial, sustainable job market created from the Gateway terminal project. Why do we keep falling for this crap?? Why does the USA continue to support increasing China’s energy capability, economic growth and power, after all, they are the world’ largest Communistic Country?? And we don’t like Communism, right??

  3. Clembeham says:

    Scott, please inform yourself. Local organizatons and individuals are doing a splendid job of rolling political and public policyh boulders in front of the Peabody train. The developer you reference, SSA Marine, has yet to apply for the permits it needs, to build at Cherry Point, but public opinion is swinging against them.
    SSA has made one public policy blunder after another,  under pressure from organizations such as REsources for Sustainable Communities, who have skillfully led the opposition. Whatcom Docs, an organization of 190 lung and heart specialists, have published a position paper warning of public health consdquences.  The Mayor of Bellingham is campaiging asgainst  to the project. Other mayors along the Burlington Northern Santa Fe route are publicly opposing it.  The coal port is a leading issue in city and county elections.
     Please be careful what you do.  This struggle is at a very sensitive point in public opinion. Opponents are successfully making the point that it IS RESPECTABLE to be against the coal port. They’re moving toward a critical mass where public opinion and the local political majorities can swing completely against the terminal. On the other hand, we can screw it up by premature “direct action” such as that called for on the CREDO site.
              Please let the informed, skillful and experienced opposition do their work for a while before parachuting in with outside agitation.  It wouldn’t take much at this point to undermine the progress they’ve made in stopping this thing.

  4. sparki says:

    Part of what needs to be remembered is we’re not fighting just the Bellingham terminal and if it’s stopped there, King Coal is still trying to build terminals in Longview, Couz Bay, Port of St. Helen’s other places. We need a regional and national opposition to coal exports, not just Bellingham.

    Direct action can definitely be a scary tool, but if we educate and organize people in the uses of direct action in respectable ways, it breaks down that barrier. Direct action also needs to be part of the organizing strategy, not some far of margin in it.

  5. sparki says:

    Also, there won’t be outside agitators parachuting into Bellingham. Any local direct action will come from concerned citizens there.

  6. Howard says:

    We are protesting the coal port and coal trains Wed 12-12-12 At Clark College in Vancouver 3:00 PM

Trackbacks For This Post

  1. Activists Shine a Light on Washington Coal Ports » Rainforest Action Network Blog

Leave a Comment Here's Your Chance to Be Heard!

Notify me of followup comments via e-mail. You can also subscribe without commenting.