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.