The scene at the Seattle Convention Center resembles a grim Christmas party: A few dozen green-shirted supporters of Bellingham’s proposed Cherry Point Coal Terminal bob helplessly amidst a sea of thousands of coal protesters clad in bright red shirts that read “Beyond Coal.” Outside in Freeway Park, a Polar Bear and Giant Salmon keep Santa Claus company while behind them, an inflatable earth burns.
State officials are estimating that 3,500 people have arrived for the 4:00 p.m. public meeting on the Cherry Point coal export terminal. This meeting is the last its kind in the state before state Department of Ecology and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers officials determine the range of environmental, health, and economic issues that must be examined in an Environmental Impact Study (EIS) before the proposed terminal is granted its permits to move 54 million metric tons of coal annually from Montana and Wyoming through Washington state, for shipment to China.
"I moved from N Carolina, worked with the poor in coal mines in W. Virginia. The effects of coal are devastating. We need to stop this." Judith Atkins, Bellingham resident.
State and federal agencies are looking for public input on four topics:
· A reasonable range of alternatives to the terminal · An identification of potentially affected resources · A list of significant unavoidable adverse impacts · And finally, ways to avoid, minimize, and mitigate those impacts.
Despite the overwhelming turnout, only 150 people will be granted the right to speak before the federal and state officials in huge twin ballrooms at the Convention Center—everyone else will have to submit written comments.
Speakers are chosen through a lottery system, after it was discovered that railroad interests were paying people to stand in line at other public meetings and stump for the proposal. Several city officials are here to represent Seattle’s opposition to coal trains, including Mayor Mike McGinn, King County Executive Dow Constantine, and Seattle City Council members Mike O’Brien, Sally Clark, and Jean Godden. At least one member of the Tacoma City Council and numerous tribal representatives from the Lummi Nation, Nisqually, Tulalip, and Snohomish tribes are here as well.
"We do not support an industry that will damage our economy or cultural heritage, or infringe on our fishing, hunting, and treaty rights," testifies Mel Sheldon of the Tulalip tribe. "This will delay traffic two to three hours daily [in our area]. We stand with our coastal Salish relatives in solidarity. We ask that you not permit a project that significantly impacts our daily life and further erodes our treaty rights. Tulalip says hell no to this project!"
"I appreciate the natural wonders of this state," testifies 12-year-old Rachel Howell. "I like salmon. I like oysters. Global warming is threatening salmon and oysters. I like to ski at Snoqualmie Pass—in my lifetime, I will not be able to ski at Snoqualmie Pass because of global warming. Children are suffering because of global warming. This is the future you’re creating for us an this is not the future we want. It’s pretty simple, even I understand: If you make coal more available, more people will use it."
I try and interview a few of the green shirts but it turns out they are total dicks.
“We have nothing to say to you,” three women tell me when I identify myself as a reporter. “Oh, so you’re not here to publicly explain your support for this proposal?” I ask. “We are, we just prefer to keep our comments private,” they say, stupidly.
Behind them, state officials were reminding the masses not to cheer or boo any of the commenters. I had the strong urge to boo the three green women as they walked away from me, but refrained.
The masses cheered their speakers on with signs instead.
Eventually, a green-wearing man named Herb Krohn is called on to testify. "It’s impossible to consider the cumulative impact of coal trains," says the United Transportation Union representative, as members of the audience throw up signs reading 'RED HERRING.' "It’s purely speculative. There are approximately 5,000 real direct jobs in Washington State from this proposal. Coal is a naturally occurring mineral, the coal dust discharged is minimal and this argument that it impacts health is specious at best...." the rest of his words are drowned out by boos from the audience.
"We’re already feeling the impacts of climate change—global fires last summer, we spent an extra $50 million on fighting fire," explains Representative Joe Fitzgibbon (D-34) when I run into him waiting to testify. "That’s $50 million less we can spend on schools. We’re relocating tribes because of rising sea levels. I think the scope needs to include the climate impact of additional greenhouse gases. Even if coal is burned in China, it needs to be studied here."
For the anti-coal-terminal camp, the goal is to sway the scope of the EIS so that it broadly encompasses the widest array of environmental, health, and economic impacts of the terminal. If issues such as traffic delays, health impacts from coal dust and other pollutants, economic impacts to businesses, tribal fishing and hunting impacts, and the climate impacts of burning 54 metric tons of coal in China are all addressed, protestors hope those cumulative negative impacts will convince state and federal agencies to deny permits for the terminal. Either that, or the mitigation costs will prove too expensive for terminal backers.
More pics and quotes from today's meeting and rally to come... In the meantime, go here if you want to comment on the proposal. The deadline for public comment ends January 21!