Statement: Permit Application for Massive Coal Export Terminal at Cherry Pt

For Immediate Release

March 20, 2012


Walter Kloefkorn, Spokane area farmer, (509) 828-2817

Ed Gulick, Montana resident, architect, (406) 259-7618

Matt Krogh, RE Sources, Bellingham, (360) 820-2938

KC Golden, Climate Solutions, (206) 443-9570

Kimberly Larson, Climate Solutions, (206) 443-9570×36, cell: (206) 388-8674


Letter to agencies says EIS scoping hearings should be accessible to all affected communities

Bellingham, WA – Late yesterday, SSA Marine submitted a permit application to build a coal export facility capable of exporting 48 million tons per year. Community and environmental leaders are calling on decision makers and agencies leading the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) process to study the full range of community, environmental and economic impacts of the proposed Gateway Pacific Terminal (GPT) at Cherry Point. The increase in rail traffic would impact public health and safety and pose economic risks to communities across the region from Whatcom County to eastern Washington and Montana. Coal export would also fuel climate change and add to global mercury pollution, a dangerous toxin produced by burning coal.

“This permit application is a direct threat to our farms, property values, and quality of life in eastern Washington,” said Walter Kloefkorn, a small farmer and Sierra Club volunteer in Springdale, Wash.  “Adding 18 or more dirty coal trains to Spokane’s rail lines every day would foul our air and water with diesel pollution and toxic coal dust, hurting farms and small businesses on Main Street.”

Coal trains are of particular concern for communities like Spokane which would experience the additional train traffic needed to feed all of the currently proposed coal export facilities in Oregon Washington, which together add up to 160 million tons of proposed coal export annually. Find a map of the rail corridor from mines in Montana to Cherry Point here.

“You can’t just draw a line around Cherry Point and Whatcom County, Washington. Coal export has serious consequences for families and communities along the entire rail line,” said Ed Gulick, Past Chair of Northern Plains Resource Council and a Billings, Mont., architect. Northern Plains is a grassroots conservation and family agriculture group based in Billings. “For cities and towns two states up the line it’s hard to find an upside. Montanans would face many health and traffic impacts and other costs not borne by railroad and coal companies, yet we’d see none of the economic benefits.”

Construction and operation of GPT could harm water quality and herring spawning grounds at the terminal site. Herring feed endangered salmon and Orca in turn.  Coal tankers, each measuring more than 3 football fields in length, would have to navigate already congested shipping channels of Rosario and Haro straits increasing risk of a major collision and spill in Puget Sound.

“The proposed coal port could be a game changer for the quality of life and natural amenities that make this corner of the country such a great place to live” said Matt Krogh, with RE Sources. “Decision makers need to hear from everyone who values what we have in Whatcom, Skagit, Island and San Juan counties. Your voice counts.”

A recent report by Public Financial Management Inc., concluded that there is not sufficient evidence to support the claim that if GPT isn’t built the coal would be shipped to Canada, meaning Whatcom County would still have all the added rail traffic but none of the economic benefits. The report considered various factors in reaching that conclusion, including the lack of major expansion capacity at the Westshore terminal near Vancouver, BC.

Exporting coal to Asian nations would encourage them to burn more dirty coal and prolong their transition to cleaner alternatives. The result would be more of the pollution that causes global warming, which in the Northwest means more flooding and a shrinking snowpack vital for power generation, agriculture and fisheries.

“Promoting more coal burning in Asia with American supplies would be a huge step backward in local, national and international efforts to avert the most disruptive impacts of climate change,” said K.C. Golden, Policy Director for Climate Solutions. “We’re busy proving that clean energy can meet our energy needs and create more jobs. Selling dependence on dirty coal would take us backward – directly undermining our regional identity and economic strengths:  innovation, quality of life, high value industries, and clean energy. We can do better.”

More coal burning in Asia also means more toxic pollution travelling across the Pacific to contaminate Washington’s rivers, lakes and fish. Recent scientific studies show that Asia is an increasing source of mercury and other pollutants on the West Coast.

In a letter to the agencies leading the EIS process – the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Washington State Dept. of Ecology, and Whatcom County Planning and Development Services – organizations representing more than a half-million residents of Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Montana, called for public scoping hearings to be held in locations that reflect the full geographic range of communities affected by coal export. Those locations include Spokane, the Columbia Gorge (White Salmon) and Vancouver, Washington. Communities in Montana are also calling for hearings to be held locally.

The letter reads “By our estimation, if all projects that are already disclosed to the public were built, there would be the capacity for around 160 million tons of coal moving through the Northwest’s already congested rail and port system. At capacity, this means roughly 63 coal trains—each over a mile long, moving through some Northwest communities every day.”

The letter goes on to say “The Gateway Pacific Terminal, which proposes to move as much as 48 million tons of coal per year out of a terminal site north of Bellingham, is likely the first of many similar proposals in Washington and Oregon. As the first terminal site to undergo thorough environmental review and public scrutiny, it is crucial that the process is as rigorous and transparent as possible. Given the strong public sentiment on all sides of this issue, and the significant consequences for all of the region’s citizens if the GPT facility is permitted, a thorough and robust public conversation around the facility and its effects is critical.”