Panelists debate potential impacts of coal terminal - The Western Front: News

Panelists debate potential impacts of coal terminal

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Posted: Friday, October 4, 2013 7:13 am

Panelists at a discussion about the proposed Gateway Pacific Terminal went rounds arguing for and against the terminal at 6 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 3 in Western Washington University's Academic West building.

Opponents cited environmental concerns such as coal dust, while proponents argued that stopping the terminal would not slow the use of coal, but would impact job growth. 

If approved, the coal terminal, located at Cherry Point, would be the largest coal export facility in North America. SSA Marine proposed the terminal. 

The event was co-sponsored by the Associated Students Environmental Center and the AS Representation and Engagement Program. The panel featured one neutral member, one member for the proposed terminal and one member against it. 

The goal of the event was to educate and inform students on the issue of the Cherry Point coal terminal, including both the pros and the cons as well as the straight facts. Nina Olivier, associate director for environmental and sustainability programs said. 

The terminal has been a controversial topic in the Bellingham area for several years. A public comment period resulted in more than 124,000 comments. 

Local writer and community advocate James Wells noted that the environmental effects don’t just start at the terminal. 

All mining activities create health and environmental issues, as do the transport of coal to the terminal and shipping of the coal to foreign markets, he said. 

Advocates for the terminal stressed the need for the jobs it could bring. Julie Trimingham, editor of coaltrainfacts.org, said there would be a maximum of 213 direct jobs by the time construction is completed. 

The Department of Ecology is helping local governments explore the environmental impacts of two proposed terminals. 

Although environmental reviews have not yet finished, concerns have risen about the environmental and health impacts of the terminal. 

Cherry Point is an aquatic reserve that is home to Cherry Point herring, a keystone species. Invasive species, leaching of toxic heavy metals, physical disruption and increased noise are cited by coaltrainfacts.org as concerns for the herring and other wildlife in Cherry Point. 

Chris Johnson, a member of the Laborers International Union of North America, said blocking the terminal wouldn’t spare the environment. 

“You’re not going to reduce the amount of coal being burned by not building this terminal,” Johnson said. “It’s hard for me to justify throwing away 8 million hours of really good- paying jobs for an ideology.” 

There are other ways to reduce greenhouse gases, he said. 

Coal dust is a chronic problem at coal terminals. The Cherry Point terminal would have 80-105 acres of open coal piles, Trimingham said. These piles must be regularly rotated. 

The coal dust is difficult to control and windy, moist conditions can agitate the combustive properties of coal, according to coaltrainfacts.org 

Water would be sprayed on the coal piles to suppress the dust. This water would come out of the Nooksack River, at a rate of up to 5 million gallons per day, Johnson said. 

Carrix, the parent company of SSA Marine, is 49 percent owned by Goldman Sachs Group Inc., a global banking and security investment firm. 

This means Goldman Sachs is only an investor, rather than an owner, and if Carrix goes bankrupt or creates an environmental catastrophe, Goldman Sachs would pay no retribution. 

"[Goldman Sachs] wouldn't have to pay a cent," Wells said. 

Members of the AS Representation and Engagement Programs were at the event continuing their voter registration efforts. Associate Director of REP Graham Marmion said REP wants to promote civic engagement and ensure that the student voice is heard. 

A question-and-answer session, with seven of the eight Whatcom County Council candidates who will vote on a permit for the terminal, takes place at 6 p.m. on Monday, Oct. 21 in Academic Instruction Center West Room 204. 

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