The Port of Seattle is holding a public meeting this afternoon (1 p.m.!) at the airport. But there's one thing that's missing from the agenda: the port's decision to let Shell use Seattle as an Arctic drilling homeport.
The Seattle City Council and Mayor Ed Murray have now pressed for an investigation into whether permits actually allow for such a thing. Environmental groups have sued. And people have been writing thousands of letters to our five-person port commission, which is made up of three elected officials who pushed for the lease and the two didn't do enough to stop it.
Port commissioner Courtney Gregoire falls into the latter category. (Just like Tom Albro from yesterday.)
Gregoire, a Microsoft attorney and the daughter of former governor Chris Gregoire, says she opposed the lease from the beginning. (Commissioner John Creighton confirms this.) Gregoire also helped make the proposal with Shell public when it didn't have to be made public, given the parameters of short-term lease agreements at the port. At the one January 13 public meeting about the deal, Gregoire passionately and eloquently argued against the idea and the commission's blasé attitude toward its own responsibility in the matter, saying:
"To those who will say you have no authority over drilling in the Arctic, you're just being asked to sign a lease in the regular course of business, it's not your role to consider these things, I say I just don't accept that as a public agency. We are actually responsible for stewarding our public assets for the public good, and that is a real challenge when it comes to weighing values. But that's the challenge that we decided to take on by running for office and being elected to the Port of Seattle."
She went on to describe the clash of values between the port's slogan ("Where a sustainable world is headed") and the reality of Arctic drilling:
"But where I'm really struggling is—at the core of this there are values that are just not consistent with drilling in the Arctic. Opening up the Arctic, and the Chukchi Sea, and the impact that will have on climate change is well-documented. This is about opening a whole new frontier. It's an environmentally sensitive area, it's where half of the polar bears reside—I could go there. But what is really frustrating and difficult is we know that drilling these wells, these 70 wells in this area right now are over a thousand miles from a Coast Guard station. So when that EIS says there's a 75 percent chance of an oil spill, that response is really, really challenging. Those are the things I do grapple with. It's not just a lease. "
But Gregoire's actions fell short of her words. When her colleague Albro raised a motion that would have required the commission to approve all short-term leases for Terminal 5, Gregoire balked and let the motion fail. Her defense is that the motion was overly broad—that having the commission approve all short-term leases didn't make sense.
What doesn't make sense is that someone who came out so strongly opposed to the lease didn't snap up an opportunity to actually stop it, perhaps favoring unity with her colleagues over taking the issue to a divisive vote. That said, Gregoire is one of the few friends the environmental community has on the commission. Her words show that she's aware of the gravity of the issue. What's left to find out is whether she can muster the political will to follow through on her principles.
Gregoire has taken $1,800 in campaign contributions from Stanley Barer, chairman emeritus of Saltchuk Resources (parent company of Foss Maritime, the port lessee responsible for allowing Shell to use Terminal 5 to moor its Arctic drilling fleet). She's also received $1,330 since 2013 in a series of donations from Strategies 360, the lobbying firm hired by Foss, and from individual Strategies 360 employees.
That's not an overwhelmingly large amount of money, especially not compared to the maritime industry's investments in port commissioners Bill Bryant and John Creighton over the years. But Gregoire's in a tough spot. If she has political ambitions (and she very likely does), a decision like this could permanently mar her environmental record. Then again, friction on the commission could also make politics at the port more difficult.
But let's take away the political calculus for a second. If Gregoire decried the port's "verbal nondisclosure" agreement during negotiations and the short time the public was given to react to the proposal—a time frame that appears to have been beholden to the deadlines of Shell board meetings—and if she hates Arctic drilling, then she should step up and do something about it. If her constituents are overwhelmingly asking her to take a stand, seems kind of open-and-shut, right?
Gregoire could seize an opportunity for a defining political moment. She could force the issue to a vote. She could make a motion to rescind the lease at today's meeting. She could make a motion to write to Interior Secretary Sally Jewell and ask her to block any Arctic drilling. Anything less—like vague promises to be better about green stuff in the future—is a cop-out given that she allowed the port to enable one of the most destructive enterprises to the planet.