On a unanimous vote, the Seattle City Council May 29 decided to oppose the development of coal export terminals within the Pacific Northwest, saying that at least half-dozen proposals in development would cause too much environmental damage.
“This goes against what we stand for from a climate change standpoint,” councilman Mike O’Brien said regarding the proposed terminals, which would see coal brought in to coastal terminals in Washington state and Oregon via train from Wyoming and Montana, then shipped to China and other Asian countries.
Coal companies have submitted permits to build export terminals near the ports of Westward, Morrow, Bellingham and Longview, where Millennium Bulk Terminals has applied for permits to build a $600 million facility in a bid to become one of the largest coal exporters in North America.
Terminal proposals, but no formal permit requests as of yet, have also surfaced in Coos Bay and Hoquiam.
One estimate says that if all the facilities are built, they’d move at least 100 million tons of coal annually throughout the Pacific Northwest.
With the proposals, however, has come vocal opposition from environmentalists, who say coal imports would bring more air and noise pollution to the Pacific Northwest.
In response to the controversy, numerous state and regional officials and entities, including Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber, Washington state Ecology Director Ted Sturdevant and the US Environmental Protection Agency have all called for a comprehensive study to determine the full potential cumulative environmental effects of the coal export proposals.
But despite the vocal opposition, proponents of the various projects say they’re in support partially because of the positive economic impact they could have on the surrounding communities.
Numerous terminal proponents spoke on their behalf prior to the Seattle council’s vote on the anti-coal resolution, including SSA Marine senior project manager Joe Ritzman. SSA is proposing the Gateway Pacific Terminal at Cherry Point.
Ritzman said that the projects could bring hundreds of jobs to the area as well as much needed tax revenue to local governments. Mike Elliott, chair of the Washington state legislative board of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen was another voice speaking against the anti-coal resolution.
“We view this as an attack on our jobs,” Elliott told the council prior to the vote.
The Council was not swayed however, and Seattle became the largest city so far to formally oppose building more coal import terminals. Other municipalities that have also passed measures so far include Hood River, Oregon and three Washington cities, Camas, Marysville and Washougal.