Bellingham, WA — On April 10th, U.S. Congressman Rick Larsen held a private re-election fundraiser where his main guest of honor was Craig Cole, spokesperson for the proposed Gateway Pacific Terminal. By hosting the SSA Marine spokesman as his main guest at the fundraiser, Representative Larsen publicly displayed his support for the massive coal export terminal that SSA and other corporations want to build just north of Bellingham.
SSA, Goldman Sachs, BNSF Railway, and Peabody Energy hope to profit from China’s industrial growth by transporting up to 48 million tons of coal annually on trains from Wyoming and Montana and then shipping coal to China. SSA Marine is proposing that 18 trains, over a mile long each, pass through Whatcom County every day. However, coal is the leading contributor to the global warming crisis. Doctors, fisherman, farmers, and homeowners have also expressed opposition to coal dust and loud trains which will have a devastating impact on farms, businesses, air quality, water systems, public health, traffic, safety, and the Bellingham waterfront redevelopment project. All these negative impacts cast serious doubt on SSA’s claims about the economic benefits of the coal terminal.
Over 70 community members and Occupy Wall Street activists showed up to protest Congressman Larsens fundraiser to urge SSA and politicians not to build North America’s largest coal export terminal in Whatcom County. Most of the 70 protesters only heard about the protest within 24 hours of the event, which is an indicator of how much community opposition exists to the coal terminal.
Most protesters held up protest signs along the roadway, and many cars honked in support. Approximately 20 invited guests paid between $100 and $500 to be admitted to the fundraiser at the upscale wine tasting Masquerade Wine Company which served cheese and wine to the guests. Some protesters attempted to go inside the fundraiser to speak with Larsen and Cole, but doormen physically obstructed protesters. However, one protester, Socialist Alternative organizer Ramy Khalil, succeeded in bypassing the doormen.
Once inside, Khalil began giving a speech in opposition to the coal terminal. Larsen was visibly irritated by the disruption and ordered Khalil to leave immediately. The doormen attempted multiple times to physically shove Khalil out of the building. However, Khalil succeeded in remaining inside the event in order to demonstrate to Larsen, Cole, and others how intense the opposition is to the proposed coal terminal. Community members are losing patience with the environmental impact review process because hundreds of residents have attended every public hearing to oppose it, and yet every politician and the corporate-owned media are allowing the project to go ahead.
Larsen rejected multiple requests, relayed by police, to come to the front door to speak with community members about their concerns. Larsen also rejected Khalil’s request to participate in a public debate on the coal terminal in the future.
Larsen defended his support for the coal terminal by arguing that it would create jobs. However, protesters demanded alternative environmentally sustainable, high-paying union jobs that would benefit Whatcom County rather than harm it. Protesters argued that a better way to address the unemployment crisis was if Larsen and other politicians and companies would halt their budget cuts that have laid off thousands of workers. They also argued that politicians could launch public works programs that would create thousands of jobs by investing in education, health care, public transit, renewable energy, retrofitting buildings to be energy efficient, or accelerating the Bellingham waterfront redevelopment project. Revenues could be raised for these projects by taxing wealthy people and corporations.
An independent report by Community Wise Bellingham found that the coal terminal could very well cost as many jobs as it would create. The findings of the report strongly suggest that economists hired by SSA did not take into account that many jobs that would be lost when they claimed that the coal terminal will create hundreds of temporary jobs and 180-200 permanent jobs. Nonetheless, Democratic Congressman Larsen sent out an email on February 28, 2011 supporting the coal export terminal, stating “the Gateway Pacific Terminal will make U.S. companies more competitive in the global market…”
At least five of the politicians who may decide whether this project goes ahead have received thousands of dollars directly from the corporations behind this project Democratic Senator Patty Murray, Democratic Governor Christine Gregoire, Democratic Bellingham mayor Kelly Linville, Republican Attorney General Rob McKenna, and Republican Senator Doug Ericksen.
In fact, Democratic Senator Patty Murrays 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, such as Larsen who held this fundraiser with SSA spokesmen Craig Cole, are completely compromised by their ties to big business, and they are all openly or quietly supporting the coal terminal.
One protester felt their message had been heard, saying, “Politicians who support the coal terminal can expect more opposition like this from tax-payers. And it will definitely cost them votes in November.” Given that both the Republicans and Democrats are supporting the coal terminal and not seriously addressing the unemployment crisis, it is urgent that individuals and organizations representing workers, the environment, and Occupy Wall Street run independent anti-corporate candidates to pressure other politicians not to support the coal terminal and to build a fighting, determined movement against corporate control of society.