Monday, October 31, 2011

Coal: Location, Location, Location - For Whom?

A friend forwarded this draft OpEd, intended to attract sufficient support to be published as some sort of policy statement.

To date, it has not appealed to enough community-minded realtors to gain wide approval. Go figure! For a bunch who trumpet the virtues of location, location, location, one wonders if they really mean it.

Maybe, they had rather take their chances on 'tricking & treating' this Halloween?


Whatcom Real Estate Professionals Against Coal Trains

When people buy a home or locate their business they look for good neighborhoods, strong schools, clean environments, accessible services, healthy local economies and appreciating property values.

They do not seek noise, pollution, traffic and major industry that negatively impacts the single largest investment they are ever likely to make.

As real estate and financial services professionals on the front-line of our local economy, we implicitly understand what makes for a strong quality of life and vibrant economy.

And chief among these is stable employment. Indeed, our very industry and livelihoods

depend on it.

As such, we do not take lightly our opposition to the proposed coal train terminal at Cherry Point.

While the promise of job creation in this struggling economy is very compelling, we are

gravely troubled by the undetermined costs of which our entire community will have to pay for these jobs, estimated at 89 to 213 at various stages of operation.

In addition to the 14 cargo and passenger trains currently running through Whatcom

County, the proposed additional 18 coal trains per day (perhaps more depending on

market demand), each estimated at one and a half miles long, will amount to upwards of

32 trains per day – one approximately every 48 minutes (if evenly spaced).

Excessive noise pollution from train horns and engines, dangerous air pollution from coal

dust and diesel fumes, and stifling traffic and pedestrian delays along our developing

waterfront and downtown Fairhaven will hugely detract from our quality of life, property

values and business opportunities at a time when we can least afford it.

Although a few people will benefit, it is clear to us that this project will be a net negative for the rest of us.

We implore our elected officials, policy makers and candidates for local office to join us

and countless numbers of concerned citizens in courageously standing against coal trains

and a sole source or multi-purpose coal train terminal at Cherry Point.

We simply can’t afford it!


Whatcom Real Estate Professionals Against Coal Trains is comprised of residential and

commercial brokers, mortgage lenders, contractors and affordable housing advocates.


Sunday, October 30, 2011

Coal: Where Does Bellingham Really Stand?

'All hat and no cattle' is an expression I've heard that describes perfectly a person who consistently can't walk his talk.
Lately, I've been wondering if some of our elected leaders don't fit that definition in regard to reflecting our community's collective wishes on the proposed GPT Project and the exceptionally mixed - and mostly bad - impacts it might bring.
Hey, I know the so-called EIS hasn't been finished - or even completely scoped - yet, but what is your gut feeling about how it will benefit or harm you?

I'm not issuing a challenge for more campaign rhetoric here, so wait until after election results are known before expressing opinions oriented toward short term political gain.
No, what I'm seeking is the unvarnished thinking of people who live here, are invested in our community, and want to keep it a great place for people -not trains & huge foreign ships- to live!

Maybe we ought to think about acting the way some folks did up in Alaska recently when confronted with being forced to accept a huge, foreign-owned mining proposal that wants to extract easy profits from public mineral assets while degrading their livelihood from salmon and related biological resources?

Consider this headline: "The state of Alaska on Friday sued to invalidate the results of a voter initiative that could stop a massive gold and copper mine near one of the world's premier salmon fisheries."

Read on to discover the kind of jurisdictional dispute we could also experience here in Bellingham, whether we decide on a voter initiative or not.

We probably should have some sort of voter initiative on this matter, and likely will at some point.
But, don't you think our local government could help jump start this effort, whether they think its within their responsibility or not?
Explain to me why this would not be possible, or why it would be a waste of time!

It is something of a mystery to me why organizations like unions can persuade the City Council to pass stupid, feel good ordinances like banning Big Box Stores [couldn't just single out WAL-MART] and imposing the costs of providing 'Living Wages' on taxpayers for unskilled, out of town sub-contractors; and ordinary citizens can't get them to do squat about something with truly adverse impacts like allowing nearly continuous trainloads of coal to endanger, degrade and foul our roads & waterfront areas while supplying coal to monstrous foreign registry ships so they can clog our coastal waters to provide 18th century fossil fuel to our main competitor and creditor?

[That sentence was longish, but did say most of what I'm trying to convey.]

You know, Bellingham could also be a David and challenge the authority of a few senior Goliath jurisdictions, too, like Whatcom County, Washington State, the US Federal Government.
It shouldn't matter that Bellingham doesn't have the jurisdiction over this matter!
Hell, what other way would be as effective in clearly communicating what this community wants?

But, maybe it's too easy to not go there; to listen to the predictable legal advice; to avoid the certain escalation of controversy; to blame others; to tuck tail and hide?
I say we need better reasons than these to do nothing but sit on our hands like good little subjects!

My habit is usually to speak my mind, and sometimes this has affected unintended things to my detriment. But, what is the alternative? Really.

Recently, a little course I attended illustrated the potential of taking actions that are not expected, welcome, or technically legal.
Those actions can take the form of extraordinary ordinances, resolutions or voters initiatives.
Sometimes, they actually work; but always, they force questioning existing authority, practices and decisions.
It forces those existing authorities to listen, react, reconsider, try to intimidate, take legal action, listen to inputs unlikely to have been fully heard, wonder what is going on, expend unplanned energy & resources , delay taking routine action, inform and rally other stakeholders, etc, but never ignore them!

You know, our beloved Constitution was NOT carved in stone and carried down from the mountain.
Instead, it was hashed out the hard way, with compromises where possible, silence where prudent at the time, changes through Amendments, including the Bill of Rights.
All that stuff was not miraculously hatched in a bolt of lightening, and it is still subject to changes that fit the progress of humanity.
And, the way we change our Constitution hasn't changed either; it takes conviction, advocacy, courage and hard work. Period.

So here's what I'm asking;

The City Council -currently a moving target, I know- needs to address this issue very soon, since it has come to dominate community concerns and will likely continue to have enormous impacts whether the current GPT proposal succeeds or not.
There has been a great deal of information generated on this, as well as questions and concerns.
So far, the benefits of it proceeding have not been convincingly presented, and neither have its hidden costs been identified thoroughly or matched with funding sources.

We seem to be in some kind of holding pattern, where everything is in limbo except for jawboning, waiting for something called the EIS to be scoped, deliberated and decided upon -largely by others, non-citizens of Bellingham.
That idle, contentious and stressful waiting needs to be replaced by active debate and communication of Community expectations before it is too late.

Back in 1999, we had such a community discussion, when the Olympic Pipe Line disaster occurred.
Then, as now, other jurisdictions had responsibility for remedial action, including assessment of damages & reparations, creating mechanisms for restarting the pipeline, oversight and future regulations & enforcement.
Then, Bellingham & Whatcom County did not simply wait for 'others' to do their jobs and stick our community with whatever results that entailed.
No, instead, the community took charge and gave the various agencies in charge the clear and forceful idea of how we wanted the problem addressed and resolved!
We demanded -and got- the changes that were important for us to accept a replacement pipeline, including changes to State & Federal regulations, safer pipeline design, better management oversight, and reparations for damages to persons & property.
In short, that result was a testament to what communities can do to protect their citizens and livelihoods!
We can do this again, this time before the terrible, inevitable accidents actually happen and real impacts are felt.
As Ben Franklin said 'A stitch in time, saves nine'.

Preventing harm ought to be easier -and less costly- than reacting to predictable problems.
And, all those coal trains & huge colliers will undoubtedly produce problems, so don't kid yourself!

But, elected officials already know this stuff; they just don't want to try and do anything about it, except talk, wait and blame others.
Our Mayor was quoted not long ago as explaining why the City had not come up with a Resolution opposing the GPT proposal; it was that he didn't have enough support from the current Council to even get it on the Agenda.
Imagine that; couldn't even get such a thing on the Agenda for public discussion!
Of course, he did hold a public meeting at which many citizens were able to voice their concerns.
As a result, the Mayor got the clear message and modified his position -and campaign- accordingly, becoming a lightening rod in the process.

So, now, why not just draft up something for the Council to consider on his own initiative?
Or have a community group do it?
That has been a pretty normal method by which topics are introduced.
And, the Mayor and at least 3 Council members [Bornemann, Weiss, Lilliquist] are well aware of what methods the 'Democracy School' advocates, yet none of them seems to have bought into those ideas enough to do much that is visible to me.
Why not?

And why haven't the other 4 Council members bothered to find out what they could do, either?
If something has a chance of succeeding -or even being heard by the community- why not get it out there?

If all those little Townships in Pennsylvania can write ordinances opposing corporate pig farms, why can't little Bellingham oppose its own world-class dirty pig farm?

Inertia? Duplicity? Lack of Courage, Simple laziness?
You can decide what the hang-up is, and whether you can do anything about it.

From where I sit, a few of these folks have strong allegiances to organized labor, and we know pretty well where those organizations stand by what we see and hear in the media.
They are in favor of whatever gains they can make, whether it is at the overall expense of our community or not.
Let's just check the list of current Council members to see what the problem might be:

Bornemann - long time active advocate of whatever unions advocate; close connections with Labor Council {no opponent this election}
Knutson - long time union member and sympathizer
Snapp - long time union member [fire dept]
Buchanan - long time union sympathizer {has opponent this election}
[let's see, that's a majority, isn't it?]

Weiss -? {no opponent this election}
Lilliquist -?
Fleetwood -? {has opponent this election}
[a clear minority that could get even smaller if the right pressure is applied]

Well, I guess we can't count on our erstwhile Council to do much more but sit on their individual and collective keisters.
Guess somebody else will have to rally Bellinghamsters to join in some sort of cooperative effort to advertise to the real authorities what is expected to happen in the seemingly rigged process of determining how much expense, safety hazards, pollution, and general degradation of quality of life will be forced onto us.

Besides legitimately concerned citizens, local advocates & organizations that can provide wider expert legal advice, we may be out of luck.

What about you?

Think we're stuck with an unwelcome, dirty, corporate pig farm of international proportions?

Wait and see, or do something about it.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Big Coal meets Cherry Point's tiny herring

Bob Simmons' latest offering on Crosscut deserves a read.

Alternatively, Hart Hodges' effort seems to favor forces that discount fish.

John Stark also chimes in reporting claims of transparency.

Here is my response to Stark's article:
jwatts Says:

By the explanations given, this deliberative process does seem somewhat more open than did the Constitutional Convention back in 1787, which is not saying much.
Maybe about the same as current ‘Executive Sessions’?
Transparency does beat translucency, which in turn beats opacity, but so what?

The process to be followed likely has a pre-ordained outcome, in favor of the so-called ‘commerce clause’ in our current Federal Constitution, which, has now been incrementally interpreted to mean that corporations are actually ‘persons’.
So, good luck with getting what you might expect to be a fair & impartial hearing, without resorting to extra-legal tactics on behalf of real people and existing taxpayers.

At least, this process may present the opportunity to identify the heretofore hidden social costs associated with egregious corporate greed masquerading as ‘jobs’. This entire proposal is nothing more than a ‘jobs bill’ for a few that is being forced upon the many by private interests, not the government.

Care to venture how much of these costs will be externalized for the citizenry to pay for?
Hint: Much more than any elected politician would ever dare advocate!

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Coal: NPR Weighs In With Two Articles

Lots of diverse activity lately has been stimulating; CarbonMasters course @ Cooperative Extension, Democracy School, books on Lincoln [Team of Rivals], James Madison [Richard Brookhiser] & pre-Columbus Americas [1491].

Follow that up with a flying trip back east to NC to visit son, Tom & to Tennessee to visit Brother-In-Law Richard.
Nice Fall weather everywhere, football season in full swing, good food, good rest equals good time.

But, the Internet just won't go away, which tends to bring me back to a reality I don't always enjoy.

For example, today's Internet provided two articles on Coal to China.
Here's the first link, and here's the second.

Read 'em and weep; but at least the word is getting out widely about the latest big scam of shipping coal to Newcastle -er, I mean China.

Too bad Dan Pike gets his kisser shown again free, this close to elections, but that goes with the territory I guess.
Wonder what he'll do once he's out of office as Mayor?
Probably, just use that as another 'skill set' to help find new work.
I do wish him well -in some other line of work..


PS - Another related link

And another, over at Crosscut, compliments of Floyd McKay

Friday, October 21, 2011

Coal: National Geographic Article

This article appeared recently in a National Geographic publication.
It is worth a read since it also addresses this as a global issue.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Coal: Green versus Gold?

This U-Tube speech deserves our undivided attention because it clearly spells out the phony battle now going on between well-established truth and the cleverly deceptive untruths being spun about climate change.

Would you seek 99 'second opinions' from Doctors on your child's health condition?

BTW, here's an article I posted in Whatcom Watch, the April, 2003 issue.
Similar arguments on a slightly different subject, growth management.

Coal: The Role of Politics

Bob Simmons has done it again in publishing an article in Crosscut that explores the history of proposed development at Cherry Point.
This one refers to the CBI proposal back in the early 1980's that sought to produce large modules for drilling oil in the Arctic.

Much debated and as contentious as our current challenge, the proposed SSA Coal Terminal, this earlier battle raged and teetered on approval until a courageous Republican Governor -Spellman- vetoed a special legislative measure and killed it.

Imagine that, a high elected official actually listened to his conscience and then followed it!

That kind of scenario could happen again, at least in parts.
Depending upon our current process for examining such proposals -there are more ecologically justified hurdles to jump- a special measure may again gain sufficient support to approve it.

When, and if, that happens, who will be our Governor?

More importantly, will that future Governor have the courage to follow his conscience?

Our choices for next Governor seem to be between Mssrs Inslee and McKenna, with the former a Democrat and the latter a Republican.

How will these two view a Coal Terminal at Cherry Point?

Is one more likely than the other to support it?

Think about it before you vote -please!

Remember, there are links between how we vote and what we get.

Voting is important, not only in the Governor's race but in others!

For those interested, here are my choices in contested local elections:

County Executive: Jack Louws [over Doug Ericksen]

County Council:

Alan Black [over Barbara Brenner]
Christina Maginnis [over Sam Crawford]
Pete Kremen [over Tony Larson]

Sheriff: Bill Elfo [over Steve Harris]
Auditor: J Lynne Walker [over Debbie Adelstein]
Treasurer: Steve Oliver [over Brian Smith]

Bellingham Mayor: Kelli Linville [over Dan Pike]

City Council:

Cathy Lehman [over Barry Buchanan]
Larry Farr [over Seth Fleetwood]

Saturday, October 1, 2011

God Save The Queen!

Since we are now fully into Silly Season, maybe there are some candidates in need of a platform, motto or giggle.
If so, here's a Memo from Queen Elizabeth:
An important announcement regarding the USA

To the citizens of the United States of America from Her Sovereign Majesty

Queen Elizabeth II.....

In light of your immediate failure to financially manage yourselves, and
also in recent years your tendency to elect incompetent Presidents of the
USA and therefore not able to govern yourselves, we hereby give notice of
the revocation of your independence, effective immediately. (You should look
up 'revocation' in the Oxford English Dictionary).

Her Sovereign Majesty Queen Elizabeth II will resume monarchical duties over
all states, commonwealths, and territories (except Kansas, which she does
not fancy).

Your new Prime Minister, David Cameron, will appoint a Governor for America
without the need for further elections.

Congress and the Senate will be disbanded. A questionnaire may be
circulated sometime next year to determine whether any of you noticed.

To aid in the transition to a British Crown dependency, the following rules
are introduced with immediate effect:....

1. The letter 'U' will be reinstated in words such as 'colour', 'favour,'
'labour', 'neighbour' & so forth. Likewise, you will learn to spell
'doughnut' without skipping half the letters, and the suffix '-ize' will be
replaced by the suffix '-ise.' Generally, you will be expected to raise
your vocabulary to acceptable levels (look up 'vocabulary').


2. Using the same twenty-seven words interspersed with filler noises such as
'like' and 'you know' is an unacceptable and inefficient form of
communication. There is no such thing as US English. We will let
Microsoft know on your behalf. The Microsoft spell-checker will be
adjusted to take into account the reinstated letter 'u'' and the elimination
of '-ize'.


3. July 4th will no longer be celebrated as a holiday.


4. You will learn to resolve personal issues without using guns, lawyers, or
therapists. The fact that you need so many lawyers and therapists shows
that you're not quite ready to be independent. Guns should only be used
for shooting grouse. If you can't sort things out without suing someone or
speaking to a therapist, then you're not ready to shoot grouse.


5. Therefore, you will no longer be allowed to own or carry anything more
dangerous than a vegetable peeler. Although a permit will be required if
you wish to carry a vegetable peeler in public.


6. All intersections will be replaced with roundabouts, and you will start
driving on the left side with immediate effect. At the same time, you will
go metric with immediate effect and without the benefit of conversion
tables. Both roundabouts and metrication will help you understand the
British sense of humour.


7. The former USA will adopt UK prices on petrol (which you have been
calling gasoline) of roughly $10/US gallon. Get used to it.


8. You will learn to make real chips. Those things you call French fries
are not real chips, and those things you insist on calling potato chips are
properly called crisps. Real chips are thick cut, fried in animal fat, and
dressed not with catsup but with vinegar.


9. The cold, tasteless stuff you insist on calling beer is not actually beer
at all. Henceforth, only proper British Bitter will be referred to as
beer, and European brews of known and accepted provenance will be referred
to as Lager. New Zealand beer is also acceptable, as New Zealand is pound
for pound the greatest sporting nation on earth and it can only be due to
the beer. They are also part of the British Commonwealth- see what it did
for them. American brands will be referred to as Near-Frozen Gnat's Urine,
so that all can be sold without risk of further confusion.


10. Hollywood will be required occasionally to cast English actors as good
guys. Hollywood will also be required to cast English actors to play
English characters. Watching Andie Macdowell attempt English dialogue in
Four Weddings and a Funeral was an experience akin to having one's ears
removed with a cheese grater.


11. You will cease playing American football. There are only two kinds of
proper football; one you call soccer, and rugby (dominated by the New
Zealanders). Those of you brave enough will, in time, be allowed to play
rugby (which has some similarities to American football, but does not
involve stopping for a rest every twenty seconds or wearing full kevlar body
armour like a bunch of nancies).


12. Further, you will stop playing baseball. It is not reasonable to host
an event called the World Series for a game which is not played outside of
America. Since only 2.1% of you are aware there is a world beyond your
borders, your error is understandable. You will learn cricket, and we will
let you face the Australians (World dominators) first to take the sting out
of their deliveries.


13. You must tell us who killed JFK. It's been driving us mad.


14. An internal revenue agent (i.e. tax collector) from Her Majesty's
Government will be with you shortly to ensure the acquisition of all monies
due (backdated to 1776).


15. Daily Tea Time begins promptly at 4 p.m. with proper cups, with saucers,
and never mugs, with high quality biscuits (cookies) and cakes; plus
strawberries (with cream) when in season.

God Save the Queen!

PS: Only share this with friends who have a good sense of humour (NOT