Thursday, August 23, 2012

GPT: Benefactor or Malefactor?

First, here are a couple of articles published recently about grandiose Coal export plans affecting our area; read 'em and weep:
The second article quotes Bellingham's own Craig Cole, who notes that projects like this actually benefit the whole country and its economy. 
Do you agree with that? 
Wonder if he might also agree with associated harms that are caused, like environmental degradation and displaced societal investments and plans? 
Go ahead, ask him!
The sheer enormity and certain potential for major, permanent degradation is discouraging. 
Surely, there are better uses for this property. 
But, this GPT scheme is the proposal we have before us.

I have now added another link to allow access to the public information application the applicant submitted to Whatcom County Planning & Development Services [PDS] on February 28, 2011. 
This attempt to externalize costs and impacts onto to 'others' is very obvious from a reading of this application.
BTW, what degree of 'opacity' do you assign to GPT's public statements so far? 

It is a pdf document over 200 pages in length, which I have now reviewed pretty completely.
Predictably, I do have some fairly extensive questions and clarifications that need to be answered. These will be posted in due course, as specific concerns directly related to this application.
To date, the GPT conversation has been essentially one-sided, with the big money sponsors and their coterie of automatic cheering sections loudly touting the benefits while remaining silent on deleterious impacts. 
These are highly paid professionals whose goal it is to maximize corporate profits while minimizing the costs that will need to be paid from public coffers. 
Just understand that up front.

A large part of that strategy is simply limiting the scope to the basic footprint on the immediate property, while the entire logistics route, plus the mines and atmosphere are to be included.

Then, also, the mindset that GPT is that they are only a small of the assemblage of partners. 
This again, tests credulity!
GPT wants to be seen as a simple trading company tolling station that transfers products they will never own from one mode of transportation to another, with both representing potentially extraordinary impactful threats.
That also seems to apply to the financiers like Goldman Sachs who will only be interested in a quick assured payback with interest. 
Just take the money and run with no care about what ill effects the project may bring.

No one, single entity is identified that wants to accept responsibility for the totality of this operation, only its part of the profits and cost avoidance.
That is a pretty plain formula for fleecing the public; Baaa-a-a to that!
At a minimum, this secretive and devious consortium needs to be required to provide adequate insurance coverage to pay for any unplanned- but likely unavoidable- catastrophic mishaps. 
These can be single events or an accumulation of events and impacts that add up to unacceptable degradation to public lands, waters and air.

I know projects like this one are very expensive, but do carry the promise of creating jobs and wealth, because I have been involved in such proposals myself for many years during my corporate professional life. 
Unlike this proposal, the ones I was involved with assumed all responsibility for the operations and impacts, as affected governments and public entities realized the necessity for the venture.

There is no necessity for GPT, only the wish for quick profits from transferring enormous quantities of a domestic natural resource into 'black gold' for foreign competitors. 
This kind of motivation is no justification for it to happen at all, especially since it also brings the prospect such ruinous impacts to existing communities, our waters and atmosphere.

In the spectrum between wants and needs, this is clearly a want! 
Where on that scale would you rate it?
That also goes for the phalanx of fawning toadies who think they stand to benefit from this venture going forward. 
They are clearly thinking of themselves first, and not for what may be best for our collective lives together on this planet.

As far, as opposition to GPT goes, that has been either discouraged [think Whatcom County Prosecutor's Office] or derided as simple NIMBYism. 
What is that about? One side is allowed free acceptance and unlimited bloviation, while opponents are discredited, even though their arguments need to be heard.

Like a growing proportion of people who live here, I was drawn as much by by the area's breathtaking beauty as I was by the prospect of a local job. 
The job was a means to an end, not the end itself! 
Even that job was a victim of excessive corporate greed and unsustainable mis-management! 
When it ended, I elected to stay here anyway because my situation allowed it. 
Now, I'd like to stay here longer, but developments like GPT do tempt me to move somewhere else; wouldn't that be convenient? 
But whether I live here or not, this is my neighborhood and I have very serious doubts that GPT will be good for anyone's backyard in the long run!

Mark Twain lived in the Gilded Age, and loved it because -gifted as he was- he liked getting rich quick. 
He liked that so much he did it several times, often losing everything by gambling on a risky scheme. That was the latter half of the 19th century, the period of robber barons and industrial titans, who could care less about anything other than their own wealth, opulent and wasteful livestyles and power. 
Is that what we want to happen again? 
Isn't that type of excessive selfish motivation at the root of many of our current problems? 

That was also the time when railroad tycoons did what they wanted and were richly rewarded by our government with land and riches beyond belief! 
Guess what? Surprise, surprise, they want to continue that status! 
That was the time when corporations -then called 'trusts- began to be considered as people. 
Look where that idea has gotten us. 
Of course, the roots of the idea that money was 'speech' was also the wish of the tycoons. 
Some even used their money to buy seats in our Congress. 
Imagine that!
Like the idea of money from somewhere else determining what happens in your backyard? 
If so, you'll probably also love GPT!

What will happen to all that capital spent to finance GPT? 
Will it be repaid with handsome interest to wealthy individuals who may decide to invest it outside our tax laws, in Switzerland, the Cayman Islands or the Bahamas? 
How will that help us finance our essential services and other needs for the future? 
Does anyone really believe that the taxes generated from operation of GPT will be even close to sufficient to pay for the increased public services required, or the infrastructure costs? 
How did Judas spend his 30 pieces of silver? 
Think he enjoyed it? 
How about his offspring -if he had any?

GPT estimates its 'life' at 50 to 75 years, which may become shortened by a number of reasons; no more coal supply or demand, lower than anticipated prices and profit margins, global climate events that convince us that fossil fuels are the source, catastrophic accidents that destroy or materially damage important ecosystems, war & terrorism, public dissatisfaction with having to pay for private gain with public resources, improved regulations, poor business decisions, [you fill in the blank].

The point is, when GPT's time is up, the deleterious impacts will remain; just like we've seen happen before at Georgia-Pacific on our downtown waterfront. 
A Superfund type mess for us to deal with at public expense. 
When the herring, salmon and Orcas are gone, then where will the fishermen and tourists go? 
When railway communities become modern versions of shanty towns, who will buy the real estate? When the spike in economic activity based on resource extraction winds down - again, where will people find work? 
And, when this area becomes known as no longer so breath-takingly beautiful, who will care? 

But, maybe, just maybe, none or not all of these dire predictions will come true? 
Are we willing to take that chance? 
We will be doing that unconsciously unless we fight GPT now and hold it to the highest standards possible!

In the meantime, please remember the warning that President Teddy Roosevelt -a Republican- gave us a century ago when he was faced with the mounting power of the corporations -combines & trusts in gentler talk- in his time. 
He used the term 'malefactors of great wealth' as representing a serious threat to our entire system of government, then took strong action to curb that power.
That particular problem has the characteristic of periodically reappearing from time to time, as it has again now. 

So, you decide, does GPT look more like a 'benefactor' or a 'malefactor' to you? 
Maybe some of both? 
If so, let's make sure we balance the beneficial factors against the harmful factors, before allowing this ambitious get rich scheme to come to fruition in our time. 

Do they seem completely clear and honest? 
Does their application need to be seriously conditioned? 
If so, in what ways?
And, most important, what is going to be your role in making sure the EIS is scoped exceptionally well? 
Will you submit a concern? 
Will you monitor the proceedings to the best of your ability? 
Will you make sure your elected officials understand your expectations?
I hope so, because that is about all we can count on to insure what happens is above board, well considered and the best decision we can reasonably expect.