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 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.

About the author

Andrew Villeneuve is the founder and executive director of the Northwest Progressive Institute, as well as the founder of NPI's sibling, the Northwest Progressive Foundation. He has worked to advance progressive causes for over two decades as a strategist, speaker, author, and organizer. Andrew is also a cybersecurity expert, a veteran facilitator, a delegate to the Washington State Democratic Central Committee, and a member of the Climate Reality Leadership Corps.

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