Proposed port splits Dems over labor, enviro concerns

By Olivia Henry and Rebecca TachiharaWestern Washington University                 The debate over the proposed Gateway Pacific Terminal has been framed as Community David vs. Corporate Goliath, rural livelihoods vs. city NIMBYism, high-wage jobs vs. clean environment. The final concept pits two political bases of the Whatcom County Democrats against one another:  unions hungry for jobs and environmentalists concerned about their community becoming the gateway through which coal travels to be burned in China. Local environmentalists argue that jobs versus environment is a false dichotomy. They describe the debate as “jobs versus jobs,” citing concerns for the vitality of Bellingham’s redeveloped waterfront, which is divided from the rest of the city by the rail line that would serve the proposed terminal with as many as 20 trains per day.Nobody, however, is arguing that the local economic picture is rosy.The debate comes at a time when the county’s unemployment rate has surged from 4.9 percent in 2000 to 8.4 percent this May. Residents living below the poverty level accounted for 15.5 percent of the county’s population in 2009 (the most recent U.S. Census figures available), which was higher than the state average of 12.3 percent, and nearly double the rate of 7.8 percent in 2000.

“Clean coal” technology years away, but it could reduce Cherry Point bulk terminal’s impact

By Kimberly Cauvel and Marianne Graff
Western Washington UniversityWashington state is eliminating coal-fired power in an effort to reduce harmful emissions. China is attempting to reduce emissions using new technology for burning coal.“Individual coal plants have different efficiencies and pollution rates. A plant in China may be more or less efficient than one in Washington based on the technology at the plant,” said Justin Brant, climate change policy analyst for the Washington Department of Ecology. “That said, climate change is a global issue and greenhouse gases produced in China have the same effect as those produced in Washington or anywhere else.”Clean coal technology includes a variety of ways to reduce emissions. The five major emissions associated with coal burning are sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide, particulate matter, mercury and carbon dioxide, said Brad Tomer, director of the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Major Demonstrations.Technologies exist or are currently under development to control these five types of emissions. Of particular controversy is the existence of carbon capture and storage: a process the Pew Center on Global Climate Change estimates could reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 90 percent.“It’s not futuristic in the sense of pie in the sky,” Tomer said.  Carbon capture and storage has its skeptics. Craig Benjamin of the Environmental Priorities Coalition said, “That doesn’t exist. It’s kind of like a unicorn: people like to talk about it — they’ve been talking about it for 30 years — but there’s no example of it.”

Trains’ impact on daily life worries neighbors; would they imperil B’ham’s $2 B waterfront remake?

By Gina Cole and Brianna GibbsWestern Washington University BELLINGHAM – From its early days as a thriving logging and fishing port, through the decades of housing Georgia-Pacific West, Inc.’s paper mill, Bellingham has always had a working waterfront. Most of those industries are now gone, but even as the city prepares to transform 220 waterfront acres, it has repeatedly emphasized the need to maintain a working waterfront and increase public access to the water.The plan is still preliminary, but the city has already invested $2 billion in waterfront cleanup to eventually renovate the area with commercial spaces, university classrooms, offices, shops, eateries, a park and even a new public library or aquarium.However, a bulk-shipping terminal proposed at Cherry Point, north of Bellingham, could bring train traffic that many are concerned would interfere with the city’s vision for waterfront development.Seattle-based SSA Marine, a company specializing in marine terminal operations, is proposing to build a shipping terminal north of Bellingham that could hold as much as 54 million tons of bulk commodities including coal, wheat, potash (a mineral used in fertilizers), and calcined coke (a byproduct of oil refining), said SSA Marine consultant Craig Cole. SSA Marine has already signed a contract with coal giant Peabody Energy to ship 24 million metric tons of coal, equivalent to filling 370 football fields almost 15 feet deep. The terminal would have the capacity to ship double that.If the terminal were built and operating at full capacity, the coal and other bulk commodities would be brought to the terminal via an estimated 18 additional trains that would pass through Bellingham and Whatcom County, Cole said.

Will proposed bulk, coal terminal face narrow or broad environmental review?

By Carolyn Nielsen and Andrew DonaldsonWestern Washington UniversityBELLINGHAM – The proposed coal and bulk shipping terminal at Cherry Point faces a key decision –– expected Friday, June 24 –– as the Whatcom County Planning and Development Department decides whether to require the terminal’s proponents to obtain a new permit to build a pier northwest of Bellingham.Pacific International Terminals,  a joint venture of Seattle-based SSA Marine and Vancouver, B.C.-based Westshore Terminals, Ltd., submitted its application June 10 for a 350-acre shipping terminal on land and a pier that extends into a newly designated  aquatic reserve.The company asserts that it already has permission to build the pier because the county issued a permit for one in 1997.Local and regional environmental advocacy groups are urging the Whatcom County Planning and Development Department to reject the application because the permit was approved under outdated environmental regulations.A June 17 letter to the county planning department from the non-profit law firm Earthjustice on behalf of Climate Solutions, the Sierra Club and Bellingham-based RE Sources for Sustainable Communities accused proponents of trying to subvert updated environmental standards in constructing the first phase of the project, the pier.Email petitions from RE Sources and Communitywise Bellingham circulated widely on Thursday, calling on Whatcom County residents to contact the planning department and speak out against accepting the application.

Washington eschews coal for power, but lines up to be king of shipping coal to China

By Kimberly Cauvel and Marianne GraffWestern Washington UniversityBELLINGHAM – Coal has fueled American electricity for more than 100 years, but on April 29, Gov. Chris Gregoire signed legislation to end coal-powered electricity in Washington. In an effort to reduce air pollution and greenhouse-gas emissions that contribute to climate change, Washington’s only coal-fired power plant, in Centralia, is obligated to stop burning coal by 2025.As Washington stops using coal for its own power, it could begin shipping coal to China’s power plants. Whatcom County could become one of the largest coal exporters in the United States and the largest on the West Coast if SSA Marine’s proposed 350-acre terminal is built at Cherry Point, west of Ferndale.SSA Marine estimates its proposed Gateway Pacific Terminal could ship up to 48 million tons of coal to China each year if it reaches full capacity, which the company predicts would happen by 2026.Environmentalists and many concerned Whatcom County residents are asking whether this project fits with the spirit of the new state law. The environmental groups argue that coal, whether burned in China or Washington state, produces emissions harmful to human health.“A ton of carbon dioxide or a ton of coal burned, whether in China or the U.S., is going to have the same impact as far as climate change is concerned,” said Dr. Dan Jaffe, University of Washington professor of atmospheric and environmental science.Air pollutants are swept into the atmospheric cycle and have a global reach, traveling from Asia to the United States every 10 days, Jaffe said.