Bellingham, WA — A group of coal, railroad, and financial corporations want to build North America’s largest coal export terminal right here in Whatcom County. They are proposing to construct a huge “Gateway Pacific Terminal” just north of Bellingham to ship up to 48 million tons of coal annually from the Powder River Basin in Wyoming and Montana to China, where it would be used to generate electricity. One study found that if this coal terminal is built, it will exacerbate the climate change crisis as much as the Keystone XL oil pipeline would.
The proposed project has provoked huge opposition from local residents. Coal is the main contributor to global warming. Bellingham residents take great pride in our beautiful environment, and we need investment in clean, renewable energy, not a massive coal terminal. Open train cars would also spew coal dust into the air, farms, and water, damaging our economy, air quality, health, environment, and causing hourly traffic delays and loud noise.
The corporations behind this project know they have a hard sell, so they’ve been using one of the oldest tricks in the books – they’re fostering divisions between environmentalists and workers. Unfortunately so far, practically all the labor leaders and many environmental leaders are falling into the trap.
On one side, labor leaders are supporting the project because of the temporary 2,000 construction jobs and 180-200 possible high-wage union jobs the companies claim it will create. On the other side, environmental leaders want to stop the project at all costs but offer no serious alternative to alleviate the severe unemployment crisis.
It is essential we do not fall into the corporations’ divide-and-conquer trap. It is absolutely vital unions and environmentalists form an alliance. How? By uniting and demanding environmentally sustainable union jobs as an alternative to dirty coal jobs.
Green Union Jobs
Whatcom County’s unemployment percentage is officially 8.8%. That’s over 9,000 people who are desperate for work to feed their families and lead a dignified life. However, these government statistics don’t even include part-time workers who need full-time work and discouraged workers who have given up looking for work.
Jobs are understandably the #1 concern of the unemployed and under-employed. We must support job creation, but we must demand green union jobs instead of the promised environmentally destructive jobs.
Green, union, high-wage jobs with full benefits could easily be created by investing in the new growing renewable energy industry (wind, solar, geothermal), expanding public transit, and building a high-speed passenger rail from Vancouver to Portland. Upgrading houses and buildings to be more energy efficient would also create long-term union jobs, protect the environment, and save money. Green union jobs could also be generated from Bellingham’s waterfront redevelopment project, but this project needs to be accelerated, and the jobs need to be high-paying union jobs.
SSA Marine hired economists who massively exaggerated the number of jobs their coal terminal would create. A study by the independent non-profit agency, Community Wise Bellingham, found that the number of jobs the coal terminal would create may be equal to the number of jobs that will be lost due to the coal trains’ negative impact on Bellingham businesses. Who should we trust – SSA Marine who stands to make billions off this project, or a non-profit agency with no conflict of interest?
Bail Out Workers, not Wall Street!
Any benefits a few workers might receive from the Gateway Pacific Terminal, mostly temporary jobs, will be massively dwarfed by the harm to other workers’ jobs, the community, and the huge profits that will go to the project’s investors — Goldman Sachs (which made $8.3 billion in profits in 2010), Peabody Energy (which made $1.1 billion), Berkshire Hathaway (which bought BNSF railway and made $12.9 billion), and SSA Marine (a Seattle-based multi-national company).
Taxpayers already bailed out Goldman Sachs with $10 billion of TARP money in 2008 in addition to $11 billion from the Federal Reserve, $30 billion from the FDIC, and $13 billion from AIG (dailybail.com/home/dylan-ratigan-exposes-the-stealth-goldman-sachs-bailout-robb.html).
Taxpayers also already paid approximately $600 million of ARRA stimulus funds to improve BNSF railroads in Washington State, yet BNSF is proposing that taxpayers pay more for railroad safety improvements associated with the coal terminal.
If these corporations have already received these huge hand-outs from taxpayers, then why can’t we insist that our taxes be invested to create green union jobs?
Two-thirds of U.S. corporations pay absolutely no federal income taxes, according to the Government Accountability Office. The government has already given these tax evaders enough bailouts and tax breaks! It’s time we tax corporations and millionaires, demand an end to layoffs, and demand a public works program to create green union jobs!
How to Stop the Coal Terminal
If if we organize a movement of mass protests, and if unions and environmentalists succeed in building connections with each other, we can stop this coal project. The 1999 World Trade Organization protests in Seattle were successful in part because unions and environmentalists formed a coalition that organized a huge protest of 50,000 people and road blockades against our common enemy – big business.
In August, the TWU and ATU international unions came out against the environmentally disastrous Keystone XL oil pipeline project, despite the fact that it will create jobs. The unions in Washington State should follow this positive example.
When asked, environmental organizations are sympathetic to creating green union jobs, but they could be much more effective at stopping this coal terminal if they would emphasize the demand for green union jobs much more and press the politicians, corporations, and unions on this issue.
The companies claim their coal terminal will minimize environmental damage, but we cannot trust anything they say. SSA Marine was caught in the summer of 2011 destroying wetlands to begin construction on the coal terminal illegally without the required permits before the environmental impact survey had even begun. Millenium Bulk Terminals was also caught lying to the Longview community about how many millions of tons of coal they planned to export through their proposed coal port in Longview.
We can’t trust the Republican or Democratic politicians either. All of the county, state, and federal politicians are currently allowing the project to go ahead. At least 9 of the politicians who will decide whether this project goes ahead received thousands of dollars in electoral campaign contributions from the corporations behind this project, including Democratic U.S. Senator Patty Murray, Democratic U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell, Democratic U.S. Congressman Rick Larsen, Democratic Governor Christine Gregoire, Democratic Bellingham Mayor Kelly Linville, Republican Attorney General Rob McKenna, and Republican Senator Doug Erickson.
In fact, Democratic Senator Patty Murray’s husband, Rob Murray, works for SSA Marine. As of 2004, his SSA Marine retirement investment fund was valued at up to $500,000. Both the Republicans and the Democrats are completely compromised by their ties to big business.
There are 3 independent candidates in 2012 with no ties or funding from corporations who are running to speak out against the coal terminal. Socialist candidate Kshama Sawant is running against Democratic State Reprsentative Jaime Pedersen. Independent candidate Mike LaPointe is running against U.S. Democratic Congressman Rick Larsen. Green Party candidate Jill Stein is running against Barack Obama and Mitt Romney. For the sake of the planet and working-class communities that would be devastated by the construction of this coal terminal, it is essential that we break from the corporate-controlled Democratic Party and support independent left-wing candidates like these.
There is enough potential community opposition to stop this coal terminal, but only if environmental and labor organizations and ordinary people build a determined movement of mass protests, civil disobedience, and independent candidates. Socialist Alternative is calling all groups and individuals who want to organize rallies, marches and eventually a sit-in at Whatcom County Council meetings to please contact us. We also are looking for allies who want to organize more blockades of the railroad tracks like the longshore union did in Longview in September 2011 to protect their jobs, like Occupy activists did in Bellingham in December 2011, and like environmentalists did in April 2012 in White Rock.
The future of our county and the planet depend on whether we organize mass protests and civil disobedience and support independent candidates to show the corporations and their politicians that large numbers of people refuse to accept this coal terminal, and that we demand green union jobs instead.
Please donate to help us stop the coal terminal and contact us to get involved! Go to SocialistAlternative.org or mail a check payable to Socialist Alternative to PO Box 45343, Seattle, WA 98145.
Article updated 5/08/12.