Crowds gearing up for Seattle hearing on Bellingham terminal

Dec 13, 2012

Seattle is bracing for a big hearing.

Thousands of people are expected to turn out Thursday for a chance to testify about the proposed coal export terminal at Cherry Point, north of Bellingham.

It’s a fight between those who want construction and railroad jobs and those who are worried about longer-term consequences for the environment, if additional coal trains are approved.

Seattle's hearing is the final of seven statewide on the proposed coal terminal. 

Comments recorded at the Washington State Convention Center on Thursday will flow into the environmental impact statements that will be used to decide whether more trains carrying coal from Montana and Wyoming, will be allowed to rumble through Seattle.

To get an idea of what this might look and sound like, you can do a search on Youtube. A video we found there shows a coal train barreling up the coast through Edmonds, headed for Bellingham. 

The proposal would allow as many as 18 nearly mile-long trains, per day.

The Sierra Club is pushing a “power past coal” message to keep the trains out of Washington State and the Pacific Northwest.

Other environmentalists, including many doctors from Whatcom county and elsewhere say the trains and their diesel engines will pollute the air with particulate from emissions, which are unhealthy for humans and for ocean ecosystems. There are also worries about pollution because coal cars are uncovered and might spew coal dust.

Seattle politicians led by Mayor Mike McGinn agree and argue traffic would be snarled in Seattle and trade disrupted.

"It's not merely the impacts where a port might be located," McGinn says. "As you know, the train line comes in on the very eastern edge of our state, through Spokane, ends up running down the Columbia, taking a right turn and heading all the way up to Bellingham." 

But there are also labor representatives who want the high-quality union jobs that building coal terminals would bring. Some also argue that if environmentalists get their way, the coal jobs will go to Canada, along with the regulatory authority over how the coal is handled. And if that happened, they say the trains would still rumble through Washington states cities and landscapes.

The Sierra Club, backed by analysts at Seattle's Sightline group, says that's a red-herring argument, because the terminals are owned by different companies. And they say Canada could not handle the huge volume of coal exports proposed for Cherry point.

The scoping hearings for the proposed Bellingham export terminal are part of a lengthy process that involves five state and federal entities, including the Army Corps of Engineers, the State Department of Ecology and Washington’s Commissioner of Public Lands.