Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Election in far northwestern county could have a big impact on coal, as port decision looms

A county council election in Washington state could hold a big piece of the future of U.S. coal in its hands, reports Coral Davenport for the National Journal. Officials of Whatcom County, at the northwestern tip of the 48 contiguous states, are in position to decide whether to allow a proposed $600 million port in Bellingham, left, which if constructed, would ship 48 million tons of coal per year from Wyoming and Montana to Asia -- enough to power between 15 to 20 coal-fired power plants. (City of Bellingham photo: Boulevard Park and harbor)

The move could give the coal industry a huge economic boost, but the proposal, which has been heavily criticized by residents and Native American tribes. When the publisher of The Rural Blog visited Bellingham last summer, no fewer than three different types of yard signs, apparently from different groups, opposed the port for a variety of community and environmental reasons.

The Whatcom County Council will vote on two permits that need to be passed for the port to begin construction, reports Davenport. What makes it even more difficult for voters is that the council is designated as a "semi-judicial" body, meaning members can't disclose publicly how they will vote on the issue.

The Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians, representing 57 Native American groups in the region, say they don't want the coal transported through their homes, reports the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Brian Cladoosby, chairman of the Swinomish tribe, said  “We view the energy export issue facing the Pacific Northwest not as a question of ‘jobs versus the environment,’ as it is popularly described, but as a clear choice about our Northwest quality of life and the health of our salmon, upon which our lives and so many of our local jobs depend.”

There is also fear about tourism and the quality of life for local residents, opines Shannon Wright for the Bellingham Herald. Currently 10 to 12 trains travel by the waterfront at Boulevard Park each day, but the proposal would add another 18 trains per day. Additional trains would lead to closing the only vehicle entrance, as well as closing a trail for bicycles, runners, and pedestrians, she writes. Also, a second train track will be built to be used for trains to idle which would also affect the quality of the area. (Read more)

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