More than 2,000 people filled the Washington State Convention Center in downtown Seattle on Thursday to voice their opinion on a proposed coal export terminal near Bellingham. Speakers ranged from a 12-year-old girl worried about how global warming will impact “all the things she loves,” to a group of elderly women who sang an anti-coal song with the lyric: “We’re a gaggle of grannies urging you off your fannies.”
Local, state and federal agencies tasked with writing an Environmental Impact Statement held the meeting as part of a “scoping” process to gather public input on the proposed Gateway Pacific Terminal. The agencies used a random drawing system to select 150 speakers, who were given two minutes apiece to testify.
Those in opposition to the coal port, wearing red t-shirts, far outnumbered supporters of the project, who donned green and waved pro-jobs signs.
Given the “profound” impact of the coal port, Rep. Reuven Carlyle, D-Seattle, told the crowd he wants a comprehensive environmental review on how the project could affect the entire state. “That means a thorough, data-driven analysis of the realities of these proposals,” Carlyle said.
Others want the environmental review to go even farther — all the way back to the coal mines in Montana and Wyoming.
Rancher Clint McCray traveled from Montana to attend the hearing. A proposed rail line would run through his property if the coal ports in Washington state are given a green light.
“I am vehemently opposed to a private, for-profit corporation using eminent domain to condemn my private land for a rail line export coal to China,” said McCray, who called for a multi-state, regional analysis of the project.
A representative from Tulalip Tribes said he’s worried about water pollution from coal ships. “Tulalip says no to coal. Tulalip says hell no to coal,” he said.
Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn expressed concerns about how increased train traffic would affect the city’s waterfront, and possibly pose an obstacle to first responders on their way to an emergency.
Supporters who testified at the hearing said the coal ports will boost the state’s economy and bring much-needed jobs.
Brandon Housekeeper of the Association of Washington Business said the coal port is an “extraordinary opportunity” for Washington’s economy. The state has some of the “toughest environmental laws” in the nation, he said, and Gateway Pacific has committed to abiding by those laws.
If the project doesn’t move forward, Washington might as well “post a virtual warning sign on our border that says ‘Washington is bad for business. Stay away,’” Housekeeper said.
Railroad union representative Herb Krohn also spoke in support of the project, dismissing the arguments against coal pollution. Coal is a “naturally-occurring mineral,” he said, and China will find a way to get it whether the United States ships it or not.
“All we would do is force [China] to buy dirtier, higher sulfur coal from other nations,” Krohn said.
TVW taped the entire three-hour hearing. Watch it online here.
TVW produced a one-hour documentary earlier this year on the coal controversy in Washington state, called “Coal Crossroads.”