A couple of months ago there was a piece in the National Journal that put a spotlight on our humble county, and caught some local attention: The Obscure County Election That Could Change the Planet by Carol Davenport. The tagline says “A little watched race in Washington State will determine how America uses its coal – and the future of the global climate.” (in addition to the article, you can watch an interview NBC did with the author).
The issue of concern is the proposed Gateway Pacific Terminal, a $600 million project that, if approved, is projected to ship 48 million tons of coal annually to Asia, which would make it the largest coal export terminal in North America. This is said to be enough fuel to power 15 to 20 new coal fired plants a year – taking us in exactly the opposite direction in which we need to go. With carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere now reaching past 400 parts per million – the highest levels ever recorded in history – many of us believe it is a very high priority to do all we can to discourage the burning of coal anywhere and everywhere.
The site for the proposed coal port is Cherry Point, just north of Bellingham, in Whatcom County, WA, with coal from Wyoming and Montana arriving here via rail – up to 18 coal trains per day. And this is where our County Council comes in. According to Davenport’s article:
Over the next two years, the seven-member board will play an outsized role in Gateway’s fate, voting on two crucial siting permits which, if approved, will pave the way for the terminal’s construction. If the council rejects the permits, it could freeze the project for years, if not permanently. This November, voters will determine the makeup of the council that will make those crucial permit decisions, electing four of the seven members.
Hence, this year’s election is extremely important. And there’s big potential for special interests to have a large influence. Apparently the world’s largest public relations lobbying firm has already been hired to help promote the project.
The problem is that the candidates are not allowed to directly address the issue with their opinion, lest they jeapardize their role in being able to participate in the decision. It is set up as a “quasi-judicial” system, requiring the council to remain neutral and base their decision only on the “facts” that are presented to the council at a future date.
So what is a voter to do? For one, you want to consider the candidates who believe in climate change, and who acknowledge that human activity is the cause for much of the warming we’re seeing today. Two, examine how the candidates relate to other sustainability related or resilience related issues. What are their positions on protecting the Lake Whatcom watershed, or handling the GMA related issues, or the slaughterhouse regulations?
The GMA? Growth Management Act. This is huge, and has been a thorn in Whatcom County’s side for more than a decade. More about that next time.
How can you learn more about where the candidates stand on these issues? Attend the Candidate Forum on Growth and the Environment, Thursday Aug. 1, 2013, at Bellingham High School, from 5 to 7:30pm.
Attend the Growth and Environment forum to hear comments and opinions from Whatcom County Council candidates regarding important growth, land use and environmental issues facing Whatcom County. By answering a series of questions from forum moderators with audience input on topic selection, candidates will discuss pivotal issues in the upcoming elections, such as new industrial development, growth management, the proposed jail, Lake Whatcom, Critical Areas protection and shoreline protection.
We have invited every candidate to attend and represent his or her views, and are hopeful for full participation from all eight candidates.
Out of respect for the quasi-judicial role that council members inhabit during major project land use permit evaluation, moderators will not ask direct questions related to support of or opposition to Gateway Pacific Terminal or other similar projects.
Also, please join us from 5:00 to 5:30pm for a pre-forum information fair. Representatives from local organizations working on county-wide (including Bellingham) issues will be available to answer your questions (stop by the Transition Whatcom table).
www.re-sources.org or contact Matt Krogh at
Related: See the excellent article in Whatcom Watch by Terry Wechsler: GPT and County Council Elections