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LIVE from Seattle: Huge turnout for final scoping hearing on Gateway Pacific Terminal

This afternoon, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Washington State Department of Ecology, and Whatcom County (the co-lead agencies) are holding the seventh in a series of scoping meetings to determine how to best proceed with an environmental impact statement for the proposed Gateway Pacific Terminal and Custer railroad spur at the Washington State Convention Center in downtown Seattle.

This meeting was originally going to be held earlier at a smaller venue, but it was pushed back to today in anticipation of big crowds. It’s a good thing the meeting was moved. There are a huge number of people here.

The co-lead agencies have set up two rooms to accommodate hearing participants. Each room has at least a thousand chairs set up in it (and most of the seats are now taken).

Participants have been asked by the hearing’s moderator not to applaud, cheer, boo, or otherwise make noise so as to allow agency representatives and the court reporter present to listen carefully to the testimony and make notes. Participants have been told they can wave their signs to signify their agreement with a speaker, or show “thumbs down” to signify disagreement.Persons testifying will have two minutes apiece (and no more than that) in which to speak.

Ready for several hours of continuous live coverage? Here we go!

UPDATE, 4:11 PM: We’re now hearing from a representative of the Lummi Nation who says it is “not acceptable” to his tribe for traditional burial grounds to be despoiled by industrial development.

UPDATE, 4:14 PM: Our next speaker is the chairman of the Tulalip tribes. He’s making his opposition to coal exports plainly clear.

“Tulalip will not tolerate impacts to the health of our tribal members… These projects pose significant threats to our environment.”

“We ask you not permit any project that significantly impacts our way of life.”

UPDATE, 4:16 PM: Our last Native speaker comes from the Swinomish tribe. She’s echoing the sentiments of the previous speakers. “The Swinomish people want to ensure that we all live healthy lives,” she told the agency representatives.

UPDATE, 4:20 PM: The Raging Grannies are the first to testify. And naturally, they’re testifying in the form of a song.

UPDATE, 4:23 PM: Our next speaker is an environmental engineer. Her comments are very on point. “I ask that you evaluate the impact of burning all of the coal that would be transported through all of the export terminals.” Specifically, she urged the agency representatives to think about the consequences for ocean acidification and endangered species. She concluded by saying,” We say no to coal exports… period.”

UPDATE, 4:26 PM: Our next speaker, Sharon Levine, says, “We should not be encouraging Asia to use fossil fuels.” She urged agency representatives to consider “cumulative impacts”. “We really need to be thinking about things like coal train derailments,” she declared.

UPDATE, 4:26 PM: And now, State Representative Reuven Carlyle is up!

UPDATE, 4:28 PM: Carlyle is telling the agency representatives that the EIS must be “data-driven” and “thorough”. “We are one state,” he reminded the panel. “A comprehensive, cumulative impacts statement is vital.”

UPDATE, 4:31 PM: Our next speaker is a twelve-year old student from Seattle’s Queen Anne neighborhood – Rachel Hall. “Within my lifetime, I’m no longer going to be able to ski at Snoqualmie Pass because of global warming,” she says. “My generation will pay a high price for the global warming that you do.”

Lots and lots of signs in the air!

“If you make coal more available, more people will burn it,” she notes.

Huge cheers and applause break out after moderator makes an exception to the noise rule for “people under eighteen.”

UPDATE, 4:33 PM: Our next speaker is one of Tacoma’s city councilmembers. “I am here this evening concerned about coal train impacts on my city and cities like mine,” he says. He’s outlining several areas of concern he wants the agency representatives to look at. For example:

  • Concern about at-grade crossings in Tacoma;
  • Concern about how this negates activity with climate action plan;
  • Concern about impact on property values.

UPDATE, 4:36 PM: Our next speaker is from Montana. The room has gone extra quiet because everyone is listening intently. “I’ve worked in a coal mine and I’ve seen how things are done. How the Earth is dug up,” he told the agency representatives. “From our river, all the way to your ocean… the water will be poisoned… You can’t drink that water, where I work.”

 

UPDATE, 4:40 PM: Our next speaker is a farmer who has come some distance to speak. “I understand the need to burn coal for electricity… but I also understand that coal is a finite resource,” he said early on in his prepared remarks. He went on to condemn the Corps of Engineers for not holding scoping meetings in Wyoming and Montana. “I can’t understand why I should need to travel over a thousand miles to comment on a project that affects my livelihood,” he told the agency representatives.

UPDATE, 4:43 PM: Our next speaker comes to us from the Edmonds City Council. She’s asking the agencies to consider the impacts that coal trains would have on Edmonds ferry traffic and the beaches of Edmonds.

UPDATE, 4:45 PM: Our next speaker is a twenty-two year old transplant from Minnesota who works at the Bonneville Power Administration and moved here because he wanted to enjoy the Pacific Northwest’s quality of life. “I would love [for the co-lead agencies] to see the external costs,” he told the representatives.

UPDATE, 4:49 PM: We finally have a speaker in green shirt. (People wearing green shirts are here to support the proposed terminal project). “We need these facilities to preserve port and rail jobs,” he told the agency representative. “Coal is not a pollutant when burned…. except when burned,” he quickly added, catching himself, as people began to laugh. Lots and lots of thumbs down.

UPDATE, 4:52 PM: Our next speaker is Seattle small business owner Mike Dash. He wants the agencies to look at permafrost melting, because that could result in a very large increase in carbon dioxide emissions. He says he wants four things to be included in the EIS:

  • How much of a margin of safety do we have in terms of where we are now and the melting of the permafrost?
  • How would the proposed terminal at Cherry Point impact permafrost melting?
  • What’s the cost of building seawalls to protect us against superstorms?
  • Would external costs be covered by the builders of the terminal?

UPDATE, 4:53 PM: Our next speaker wants the co-lead agencies to look hard at the impact of coal trains on wildlife sanctuaries.

UPDATE, 4:59 PM: Our next speaker has to be one of the youngest people here. Not sure how old he is, but boy, can he speak. (Sorry for the pun). This is one of the most inspiring bits of testimony I’ve ever heard at a public hearing. “This plan proposes tons and tons of coal going through many neighborhoods… next to train tracks,” he says. “My question is: What would the health impacts be on people – especially children living near the train tracks?” He concluded by saluting the red-shirted masses for turning out to oppose the project.

UPDATE, 5:00 PM: We’re now hearing from the editor of CoalTrainFacts.org. She’s pointing out that we all inhabit the same planet Earth. What happens on the other side of the world affects us: “Coal burnt in Asia hurts people there and blows pollutants back here.”

UPDATE, 5:03 PM: Our next speaker is a Native American. “I do not support any coal development of any kind,” he told the co-lead agencies. “It’s destroying, and has destroyed, our environment, and wildlife.”

UPDATE, 5:06 PM: We’re now hearing from a Sumner community leader concerned about economic impacts on her city. She memorably prefaced her remarks against the project by saying, “If you don’t stand for something, you will fall for anything.”

UPDATE, 5:10 PM: Our next speaker has some harsh words for the fossil fuels industry: “Any activity based on coal ought to be considered a criminal activity at this time in our history.”

UPDATE, 5:14 PM: Our next speaker is a rancher from southeastern Montana who is “vehemently opposed” to allowing corporations to extract coal from the Rocky Mountain West and export it overseas to be burned in China. He complained about the two-minute time limit and expressed the worry that the Corps is treating the hearings it is doing as merely a formality. As he departed the stage, many people shouted their enthusiastic agreement, in violation of the rules.

UPDATE, 5:17 PM: Now we’re hearing from the leader of the Cascade Chapter of the Sierra Club, who says we should be working on developing high speed passenger rail, supporting sustainable agriculture, and investing in renewable energy instead of exporting coal to China.

UPDATE, 5:18 PM: Our next speaker is challenging one of the talking points of coal port proponents. “They say this will create jobs, but it could destroy jobs,” he told the agency representatives.

UPDATE, 5:21 PM: Our next speaker is from the Association of Washington Business, which is an affiliate of the Chamber of Commerce. He is only the second person to have spoken in this room in favor of the project. “Opponents are asking you to go beyond the legal requirements,” he told the agencies. He added: “We call on the Corps of Engineers, Washington Department of Ecology, and Whatcom County to apply federal laws fairly and promptly.”

UPDATE, 5:24 PM: Our next speaker is the mayor of Lynden, who has endorsed the Gateway Pacific Terminal (as have several other mayors in Whatcom County). “We are a nation of laws. Permitting agencies should not interfere with lawful commerce,” he told the agency representatives. Plenty of people waved red herring placards or stood up with their thumbs held down. Hissing also broke out, in violation of the rules.

UPDATE, 5:30 PM: We’re now hearing from Michael Ramos of the Church Council of Greater Seattle. “With the Scriptures, we have to say: Before us we have life and death. Choose life!”

UPDATE, 5:38 PM: Now that’s a concise ending – from our last speaker: “Coal is dead!”

UPDATE, 5:41 PM: We can hear singing coming from the adjoining room. Sounds someone with a lot of talent from one of our Northwest tribes.

UPDATE, 5:41 PM: We are now about halfway through the hearing.

UPDATE, 5:43 PM: Our current speaker is telling the panel that the Pacific jetstream will blow harmful emissions from China’s coal-burning power plants back to our skies in the span of just a couple of weeks. “This a monumentally stupid thing to do,” he says. “I say hell no to rapacious greed.”

UPDATE, 5:44 PM: Our next speaker says it’s time to expand and update our passenger rail system instead of using our railroads to ship coal overseas to China.

UPDATE, 5:46 PM: Our next speaker is another young person – a fifth grader, to be specific – who humorously says she’s been “dragged to meetings” to learn more about coal. She wants the panel to think carefully about all of the environmental consequences of this project.

UPDATE, 5:48 PM: Our next speaker is a project proponent. “It’s clear there is a market for the product and a profit to be made…. The economic advantages of moving the project forward are enormous.”

He concludes: “Let’s build the Gateway Pacific Terminal at Cherry Point… Let’s move forward for prosperity.”

UPDATE, 5:51 PM: We just heard from another eloquent speaker from the Northern Cheyenne tribe. Really glad to have people with us from Montana and Wyoming who would be affected by this.

UPDATE, 5:54 PM: Another Lummi speaker is up now. “I grew up as a commercial fisherman,” he says. “We’re already suffering from the chemicals that are being leached into the waters by the aluminium smelters that are up there.”

“You should see those tankers that pollute our waters,” he says.

 

UPDATE, 5:56 PM: Dave Myers is now speaking on behalf of the building and construction trades. He’s in favor of exporting coal to China. Some sound bites:

  • “It’s only appropriate to evaluate the Gateway Pacific Terminal on its own merits.”
  • “I’m confident the studies will show limited impacts on the environment.”
  • “This project will bring real construction and family wage jobs to Washington State… We need to embrace opportunities like this.”
  • “I believe we can be smart and responsible when using coal.”

UPDATE, 6:01 PM: One more hour to go!

UPDATE, 6:03 PM: Our next speaker is someone who has done thirty years of environmental work. She wants the agency representatives to look at the infrastructure that would be required to support the coal trains.

UPDATE, 6:06 PM: We’re now hearing from Grace Ann Bird, a Nisqually tribal member. “I live within a few miles of the Burlington Northern train tracks that are proposed to carry uncovered coal trains,” she says. She’s concerned about coal trains negatively impacting tribal fishing grounds

UPDATE, 6:08 PM: Lee Nugent from the Seattle building trades is now at the podium, speaking in favor of the project. “Everybody’s heard every concern from both sides of this,” he says. “What we haven’t addressed is why China’s using all of our coal… China is burning our coal is because we keep buying their products.”

“If coal is going to be used, we should try to put environmental standards on it,” he concludes.

UPDATE, 6:10 PM: Our next speaker is a young woman who is soon to be a mother who works on a farm and raises poultry. She doesn’t want the meat she sells to be contaminated as a result of toxic dust from coal trains.

UPDATE, 6:14 PM: “What kind of people are we?” our next speaker is asking. She wonders “what kind of collective craziness” would allow a project like this to go forward. “Now is our last chance to get the future right,” she adds.

UPDATE, 6:17 PM: Our current speaker is playing an audio clip of train noise (from a freight train) recorded up in Whatcom County. It’s not a pleasant sound.

UPDATE, 6:19 PM: We’re now hearing about some of the potential consequences to our ecosystems that would result from allowing this project to be built.

UPDATE, 6:22 PM: Our next speaker is a Lummi Island resident. “There are too many significant adverse impacts to mention in two minutes,” he says. But he urges the agency representatives to thoroughly analyze the cultural impact of the project on the Lummi people. He also gives Sightline Institute a shout-out.

UPDATE, 6:24 PM: Wow, another young speaker thoughtfully urging that we really think through the consequences of this. An eleven year-old this time. I’m really surprised and impressed by the number of youth who have stepped up to the podium at today’s hearing. Bravo to these kids for becoming activists so early in their lives.

UPDATE, 6:26 PM: Our next speaker suggests China’s appetite for coal won’t last for very long, and that consequently, a coal terminal would be a waste of money.

UPDATE, 6:28 PM: Our next speaker is a former Seattle University dean. “I would like you to consider that you are co-creators with God of Earth’s future,” she says. “Our faith tells us that we are special creatures created by God and that we have these great responsibilities.”

UPDATE, 6:31 PM: Our next speaker was trained by Al Gore to deliver his “An Inconvenient Truth” presentation on the climate crisis. He’s reading off some seventh graders’ reactions to the coal terminal project.

UPDATE, 6:34 PM: Our next speaker is someone who says she moved to the Pacific Northwest because of its magnificent coast. “Washington is the only state with a marine recreational trail,” she notes. “As you move forward with the scoping, you must consider impacts to shoreline recreation.”

UPDATE, 6:36 PM: Our next speaker says it is “beyond unthinkable” that in 2012, we are considering increasing our dependence on fossil fuels instead of powering past coal, oil, and natural gas.

UPDATE, 6:38 PM: Our next speaker is an oceanographer and retired EPA water quality specialist. “I think that you have heard today a broad number of people speaking about effects that go all of the way from Montana and Wyoming to China… “I hope you have noted that these are all interconnected effects.”

UPDATE, 6:44 PM: Well-known environmental attorney Peter Goldman is now addressing the agency representatives, urging them to do due diligence in preparing the environmental impact statement.

UPDATE, 6:45 PM: Our next speaker says he is prepared to physically impede coal trains if need be. He uses the last forty seconds of his time to repeatedly say, “We won’t do this!”

UPDATE, 6:46 PM: Our next speaker wants the co-lead agencies to consider if the ventilation in the Great Northern railway tunnel is activate. He’s also concerned about potential negative impacts on historic buildings.

UPDATE, 6:48 PM: The meeting has been so efficiently run that we have time to hear from additional speakers (which is a good thing).

UPDATE, 6:50 PM: Our next speaker is both passionate and spiritual. “Our planet cannot speak,” she says. “Our children, not yet born, cannot speak. I ask that you look into the future fifty years.”

UPDATE, 6:54 PM: Our next speaker wonders whether the railroads operating the coal trains that would be bringing coal to the proposed Gateway Pacific Terminal would be required to cover the trains.

UPDATE, 6:57 PM: An observation: Having people signify disagreement by waving their hands or signs really seems to work. It allows the moderator to move quickly between one speaker and the next, and it ensures the speakers themselves get more time to say what they want to say.

UPDATE, 6:59 PM: Our next speaker is from Nathan Hale High School. “My generation is faced with the realtiy of climate change as our future,” he says. “That science they show us in biology tells us we’re rapidly approaching the point of no return.”

UPDATE, 7:01 PM: So that Nathan Hale student was our last speaker. Great way to end the hearing. She was really eloquent. “When we get to the point of no return, money won’t matter. Survival will.” Great thought!

UPDATE, 7:02 PM: The hearing is adjourned. Everyone is heading their separate ways, Thanks for reading our live coverage! If you’d like to watch this hearing later on, you can do so on TVW or the Seattle Channel. They were here taping the proceedings.

Well, it’s time to close the lid on the laptop and head out. Thanks for following along with our live coverage! We hope it was informative and helpful.