Meet Port Commissioner John Creighton, who wonders if rejecting Shells Arctic drilling fleet in the port might lead to rejecting GMOs.
Meet port commissioner John Creighton, who wonders whether rejecting Shell's Arctic drilling fleet in the port might lead to rejecting GMOs. Don Wilson/Port of Seattle

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Five Port of Seattle commissioners. One Shell Arctic drilling fleet. More than 650,000 people in Seattle who unwittingly agreed to host a climate bomb in their backyard.

We should all be giving a sincere fuck about this, because in a swift and blinding act of hypocrisy, our elected officials effectively rolled over for a giant oil company. But that won't stop our port commissioners—and oil industry interests—from trying to convince us that caring about Arctic drilling is meaningless.

It isn't. Seattle has the power to stop this thing from happening here. And if we do, we could set an example for the rest of the country.

So, in order to address that, let's talk about port commissioner John Creighton, one of the elected officials trying to convince us this fight isn't worth fighting.

John Creighton III, the son of Jack Creighton—former interim chairman and CEO of United Airlines' parent company, UAL Corporation—has sat on the Port Commission since 2006. At the meeting on Shell's Arctic drilling fleet, he railed against the idea of Arctic drilling, even citing research showing that burning Arctic oil and gas reserves could tip global warming past two degrees Celsius, a future that international leaders have long agreed amounts to crisis mode.

Pretty progressive stuff. But then... I honestly don't know. I watched Creighton at that January 13 meeting the whole time, and I still cannot explain how he transitioned from caring so strongly about the environment to concluding that the Port of Seattle should host Shell's Arctic fleet.

In a follow up e-mail to The Stranger, Creighton made this argument to explain his leap:

How are we to start policing among legal activities pursued by our tenants? Are we to tell Louis Dreyfus—the operator of the grain silos at Terminal 86—that it is okay if they export grain, just not GMO crops disfavored by me and many other Seattleites? Are we to tell our fishing fleets that even though the federal government says that it is okay to fish in certain North Pacific fisheries, they can only fish in X areas that we deem acceptable if they wish to homeport in Seattle?

Here Creighton is basically making a case for not caring about anything, ever. Why ever fight to change the status quo when some people don't like GMOs? Why fight to change anything ever if the possibility exists that people might someday fight for a change you don't like?

In addition, he's excusing himself from making any judgment about the relative harms of various port activities—when, in fact, we elected him to exercise exactly this type of judgment. A reasonable person could say—and most of Seattle probably would say—that overfishing and Big Ag practices can be worrisome, sure, but making the earth uninhabitable for human life via Arctic drilling is worrisome on a much bigger scale.

Why would one Seattle port commissioner make a judgment about what port uses are just too destructive to enable?

Because democracy, John Creighton. Democracy means being responsive to the will of the people, and you're not doing your job if you ignore what your electorate says just so you can make things cushier for business interests at the port. Even if those business interests helped get you elected.

Like, oh, the $8,800 in campaign contributions you received between 2005 and 2013 from the owners of Saltchuk, the parent company of Foss Maritime, the lessee that wants to let Shell use the port terminal for its Arctic drilling fleet. Or the $3,700 you received from a Saltchuk chairman emeritus and a Saltchuk co-owner. Or the $2,800 you received from Paul Stevens, CEO of Foss Maritime, and Marine Resources Group, the company that eventually became Foss. Or the $10,475 you received over the years from Dan Fulton and Bob Felton, two people who currently serve on Saltchuk's board of directors. Or the $1,250 you received between 2011 and 2013 from Strategies 360, a lobbying firm hired by Foss, and its senior vice president, Paul Berendt.

But I shouldn't have to explain that to John Creighton. He's already made that point himself. In a blog post from 2013, Creighton described a meeting with a lobbyist in which the lobbyist told him efforts to make the port more green and sustainable were meaningless.

"I can understand my lobbyist friend’s pessimism," Creighton wrote. Then he sketched out all the reasons this guy was wrong. "The Port of Seattle’s environmental goals and green initiatives are not only the right thing to do, they will help grow jobs for our region," he wrote. In another post, Creighton said the port should be taking a more proactive role in investing in green technology: "Reducing emissions using existing technology will accomplish only so much; I believe public ports have a role to play working with our tenants to spur investments in new, more environmentally friendly technologies."

Maybe Creighton's been meeting with lobbyist friends for so long that he's forgotten about the green platform he ran on in 2009. Creighton made the point at the public meeting that if Shell weren't to stay in Seattle, it'd pursue options in Tacoma or Dutch Harbor, in Alaska. The cynical shorthand: If Arctic drilling doesn't come through here, it'll come through somewhere else.

That's bullshit. If the people of Seattle can mobilize to reject Shell's fleet, who knows what will happen in Tacoma, or in Dutch Harbor. Rejecting Shell in Seattle—probably the best place to demonstrate this kind of thing—could help organize movements across the country. Look at Keystone. And yes, the federal government also has to weigh in. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell (@SecretaryJewell) is expected to issue a decision on Arctic drilling as early as March 25. But what if Seattle started making the Feds pay closer attention to what people want? What if, more than bothering our port commissioners, we put pressure on our weirdly silent governor, on our weirdly silent senators? What if we just started writing directly to the Feds?

Commissioner Creighton and lobbyists want us to accept the idea that we can't do anything.

And that's why we need to be bothering the hell out of them more than ever.

Reach John Creighton at (And CC me if you like.)

Next up: port commissioner Stephanie Bowman.