The Political Junkie interviews “Power Past Coal”Permalink +
Mon, Aug 20, 2012, 8:00 am // Riley Sweeney
Riley's Note: As usual, you can find more pictures, interviews, analysis and commentary over at my home site The Political Junkie
With initiatives, campaigns and millions in advertising dollars, I figured I would take a break from the insanity of electoral politics and write about something non-controversial, like exporting coal out of Whatcom County. To that end, I sought out "Power Past Coal", a regional effort to motivate people to oppose exporting coal.
I sat down with Matt Petryni, campaign manager with Power Past Coal in Whatcom County, to get the inside scoop on the effort to stop the Gateway Pacific Terminal at Cherry Point. Petryni, a Sehome High School graduate, grew up in Bellingham. "This is a community I care about a lot. It's a community that I have watched evolved since then. It has become much more environmentally aware as my generation becomes more politically involved." He smiles and hastily adds that there are many environmentally active baby boomers, too. "I got involved because of my mom. She was concerned about the coal port, and brought me into the picture."
So what is Power Past Coal? "Power Past Coal is a regional coalition that RE Sources helped start to stop coal in all the regional communities that are going to be affected. We are the northwest region, but there are groups in Longview and other communities." How did this group start? "When the proposal came to Cherry Point, the various environmental groups started talking to each other and formed a united front, an attempt to coordinate the events to stop the coal export in the Pacific Northwest. Hence: Power past coal."
So what do you folks do? "My focus is to motivate volunteers to organize the community against coal export. What that usually entails is the usual political tactics of knocking on doors, making phone calls, identifying supporters and those who haven't made up their mind, and motivating them to speak out to their elected officials."
Which elected officials? "County council mainly, they are the people who get to decide on the scope of what is studied in the application, and decide to approve the application." There has been some legal dispute (see fellow blogger, and County Council expert Shane Roth's take on it here) about whether the county council can even talk about the issue before the environmental impact statement is presented to them.
Petryni is skeptical of the council's legal position. "The legal advice that they are getting is that they can't talk about it and take a position until the process has gone through. I think it is excessively conservative on their part. For a while, they couldn't even hear anything about it. But at some point, they are going to open the scoping process to hear public comment. When they open the process, then they will then be able to hear about it. When they start hearing comments in earnest, we will activate the people we have identified on this. It is the get-out-the-vote effort, even though no one is actually voting on the issue." He also noted that co-lead agencies (translation: other goverment groups involved) such as the Department of Ecology and the Army Corps of Engineers are taking a big role in the permitting process, and they ARE taking comments.
So when will the county council be accepting comments on this project? "Latest rumor is mid-September, but there are people out there saying November. It is a four month public comment period which is completely unprecedented. Usually the comment period is thirty days, then maybe sixty days. RE Sources thought the legal max was ninety days. The county council came back with 120 days, including Sam Crawford, so we said, 'You, sir, drive a hard bargain, but I think we will take it.'”
Speaking of voting, there is another local group working on this issue, Coal-Free Bellingham. They are trying to place an initiative on the November ballot that would reclaim the people's right to regulate commerce through the city, so they can block the coal trains. I covered their first public meeting here. They are not associated with Power Past Coal, so I asked Petryni for his opinion on them.
"I really support the effort of Coal Free Bellingham in a lot of ways. It is impressive that they collected 10,000 signatures in three months, and I think that it demonstrates the sheer magnatude of opposition against the coal terminal in Bellingham." But then he sighs. "However, the city council and Judge Snyder have determined that the way their initiative is written directly conflicts with the state and federal constitution, creating a legal hurdle. I realize that our system of laws does not have the protection we need of natural resources; natural resources are not considered legal persons. They are trying to assert that. But, again, we are not involved in that. We are a 501c non-profit; we have to be very careful about how we address any sort of political involvement. We are an advocacy group, obviously, but we are trying to avoid any involvement with ballot issues and candidates."
He also expressed some mild irritation about how this came about. "This is a two step process. First we need to make sure that people are opposed to the terminal and those people who are opposed to it are identified and motivated. Once we have accomplished that, THEN we can move forward with ballot measures and political efforts, but we need to do things in the right order." He takes a moment and collects his thoughts. "It is an interesting idea, whether or not it is going to work is debatable. I like the idea that they are challenging the legal ruling. If you want to change our fundamental system of laws, just blocking the coal terminal seems reasonable by comparison, it has the effect of moving the debate in a more positive direction."
So back to Power Past Coal, what is your number one reason for opposing the Cherry Point Terminal? "For me it is climate change. I see climate change as the defining issue of my generation and it affects so many people in so many ways, as we are seeing this summer. Stopping this coal terminal keeps 5.7 gigatons of CO2 out of our atmosphere. We expect our environment to be able to change 2 degrees Celsius without catastrophic consequences and we have already created 0.8 degrees of change. Adding more CO2 will only make it worse."
But what about the economic benefits to our community? "We have other options for our economic development. You don't look to coal country for economic development, it isn't a strong economic engine. Timber is a renewable resource, software is a renewable resource; if we support and maintain those industries they will last for hundreds of year. Coal will only last for one generation. We want to be able to pass down to our children a cleaner, healthier and safer world, and this is not the way to do that."
What about your volunteers, what motivates them? "A lot of our volunteers are motivated by climate change. They want the opportunity to change the world. This is part of a movement to redefine civilization itself. For other people, this will kill their property values, it means 18 trains a day of new traffic, it will be devastating on our fisheries." He cracks a big smile, "My experience has been there is no shortage of reasons to hate this project."
Petryni works full-time for RE Sources, the environmental non-profit that has operated in Bellingham since 1982. "This is pretty much all I do with my life these days, but . . . I'm doing God's work, so it is worth it."
How can someone help if they want to volunteer? Petryni urges potential volunteers to come to their office at 215 Holly St. in Bellingham, or contact them through their website. "Usually volunteers come here and call their friends and neighbors and ask them how they feel about coal export. Two hours a week is not big commitment. We send people out knocking on doors, we do tabling at various events. We do a lot of things like that. Our priority is making sure that our community knows the impacts, and give people the opportunities to organize other people. Its just the good, old fashioned, community organizing."
And with that, Petryni is off, packing up his Farmer's Market bucket with one of his interns, to go out and persuade the people. If you want more information about Power Past Coal, you can check out their website here. I hope to have an interview with one of the groups on the other side of this issue in the next couple of weeks.
Mon, Mar 10, 2014, 9:51 am // Riley SweeneyRiley digs into an unusual hiring decision at the County Planning Dept
1 comments; last on Mar 10, 2014
Sun, Mar 02, 2014, 2:22 pm // John ServaisThe editor of the Whatcom Watch, Richard Jehn, has resigned effective today. Chalk up a victory for Craig Cole and Pacific International Terminals.
8 comments; last on Mar 05, 2014
Tue, Feb 25, 2014, 8:29 pm // John ServaisThe full text of Craig Cole's threatening letter of libel against the Whatcom Watch. And the emptiness of the threat.
14 comments; last on Mar 04, 2014
Mon, Feb 24, 2014, 3:33 pm // Wendy HarrisWe were led to believe the city would review waterfront wildlife and habitat connectivity. It turns out that the city intends to focus only on nearshore fish.
Sat, Feb 22, 2014, 12:16 am // Wendy HarrisAccepting the Paul deArmond award of citizen journalism on Feb 7, Wendh Harris gave this speech. We think it deserves its own post.
Wed, Feb 19, 2014, 4:48 pm // John ServaisCraig Cole, the local contact for the proposed Cherry Point coal port has threatened the Whatcom Watch with a libel lawsuit.
5 comments; last on Mar 08, 2014
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1 comments; last on Feb 13, 2014
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Mon, Feb 03, 2014, 5:30 am // Dick ConoboyProfessional and even college sports have morphed into a circus of corporate greed and the fleecing of the public.
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Sat, Feb 01, 2014, 12:35 am // Wendy HarrisFiling a public record request could land a citizen in jail under a proposal reflected in a Herald opinion article.
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Wed, Jan 29, 2014, 6:18 am // Guest writerTim Johnson writes about the first recipient of the Paul deArmond Citizen Journalism award, Whatcom County writer Wendy Harris.
3 comments; last on Feb 08, 2014
Mon, Jan 20, 2014, 5:14 am // Dick ConoboyThe developers of University Ridge have been silent since shortly after the hearing examiner's decision on 23 October last year. Will they walk?
Sun, Jan 19, 2014, 8:39 pm // John ServaisSuper Bowl ... Weed Bowl ... This bud's for you ... Bong Bowl ... Marijuana Bowl ... whatever. It is on!
1 comments; last on Jan 20, 2014
Tue, Jan 14, 2014, 2:19 pm // Guest writerDo we actually need to say that we, as citizens, want accurate information from government officials?
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Tue, Dec 17, 2013, 12:21 am // Wendy HarrisArmy Corps advised DOE that it will not issue a waterfront permit without Lummi approval
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1 comments; last on Dec 15, 2013
Sat, Dec 07, 2013, 8:23 pm // Tip JohnsonWherein the direct, indirect, hidden and lost opportunity costs make this a waterfront boondoggle of billions
3 comments; last on Dec 11, 2013
Sat, Dec 07, 2013, 12:33 pm // Wendy HarrisLocal activist calls on Bellingham City Council to table the unpopular waterfront plans and engage in meaningful public process
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Fri, Dec 06, 2013, 11:03 pm // Wendy HarrisThe county will be required to consider water quality and water quantity when planning rural growth.
3 comments; last on Dec 10, 2013
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Thu, Dec 05, 2013, 5:00 am // Dick ConoboyThe post "riot" conversation is terribly lacking in several areas. We must expand the discussion or risk learning little from the experience.
3 comments; last on Dec 15, 2013
Wed, Dec 04, 2013, 10:53 am // John ServaisBellingham City Council and Port of Bellingham finalize the waterfront plan. In his weekly Gristle, Tim Johnson blasts the corrupt public process.
4 comments; last on Dec 05, 2013
Sat, Nov 30, 2013, 8:11 pm // Wendy HarrisThe waterfront plan allows a development bonus for payments made to the Lake Whatcom land acquisition fund
1 comments; last on Dec 01, 2013
Fri, Nov 29, 2013, 9:43 pm // Wendy HarrisA number of important issues need to be resolved before waterfront planning is complete, but the city council and port commission are ready to act.
2 comments; last on Nov 30, 2013
Fri, Nov 22, 2013, 9:01 pm // Wendy HarrisIf the port can not construct the airport safely, should it be entrusted with dangerous waterfront cleanup work?
Wed, Nov 20, 2013, 5:03 am // Dick ConoboyThe advice coming from Walmart and McDonald's to its low paid employees becomes more and more bizarre and inane.
Tue, Nov 19, 2013, 5:35 am // Dick ConoboyAmbling's motion to the hearing examiner for reconsideration was definitively rejected. The developer has not met the deadline for an appeal to the Superior Court
Mon, Nov 18, 2013, 2:18 pm // Guest writerIn which we find the hidden core of the waterfront plan is rotten through and through
7 comments; last on Nov 21, 2013
Mon, Nov 18, 2013, 10:59 am // Riley SweeneyThe county takes two big steps forward on the new jail, while still missing the point
Thu, Nov 14, 2013, 1:39 am // Tip JohnsonDear Mr. President, There's a sucker born every minute, and two to take him.
7 comments; last on Nov 21, 2013
Wed, Nov 13, 2013, 3:16 pm // Wendy HarrisThe city adminstration has been providing misleading/ incorrect information to the city council to avoid waterfront plan revisions.
1 comments; last on Nov 18, 2013
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2 comments; last on Nov 13, 2013
Tue, Nov 12, 2013, 5:16 am // Dick ConoboyPuget Neighborhood will likely have in the immediate future 1,300 new rental units that will be marketed primarily to the student population.
Sat, Nov 09, 2013, 9:47 pm // Wendy HarrisThe COB administration continues in its refusal to analyze waterfront wildlife issues, even though this is a prerequisite step in protecting wildlife from the impacts of development
3 comments; last on Nov 10, 2013
Tue, Nov 05, 2013, 8:21 pm // John ServaisWith lots of outside county money flowing in to our local races, this election is weird. But real - and we county residents have spoken.
11 comments; last on Nov 09, 2013
Mon, Nov 04, 2013, 9:55 am // Dick ConoboyThe call of the dollar speaks more loudly to health insurance companies than does the voice and well-being of the consumer, even here in Washington.
8 comments; last on Nov 06, 2013
Thu, Oct 31, 2013, 10:19 am // Dick ConoboyFour bedroom dorm rooms have been nixed by the hearing examiner. University Ridge may be in trouble as a cash cow for Ambling Development of Georgia
3 comments; last on Nov 04, 2013
Mon, Oct 28, 2013, 10:19 pm // Tip JohnsonWherein we discover why we exert our rights - and grab some more petitions before it's too late
3 comments; last on Nov 06, 2013
Mon, Oct 28, 2013, 12:00 am // Dick ConoboyIndependent voters are for independent thinkers on the city council. Vote for Burr and Petree.
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6 comments; last on Nov 01, 2013
Sun, Oct 20, 2013, 7:07 pm // John ServaisKen Bell has my vote over Mike McAuley for port commissioner. And Renata Kowalczyk has it over Dan Robbins.
8 comments; last on Oct 30, 2013
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6 comments; last on Oct 25, 2013
Tue, Oct 15, 2013, 2:46 pm // Wendy HarrisRequesting waterfront handouts for the Overwater Walkway while proclaiming autonomy from further public review is unjustifiable.
2 comments; last on Oct 16, 2013
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4 comments; last on Oct 16, 2013
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3 comments; last on Oct 04, 2013
Wed, Oct 02, 2013, 5:40 am // Riley SweeneyRiley uncovers how the Coal Industry is funding conservative candidates in Whatcom County
11 comments; last on Oct 03, 2013
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Sat, Sep 28, 2013, 2:20 pm // John ServaisAs the right wing radicals seek to shut down our national government this week, we need to push back with common sense.
8 comments; last on Oct 01, 2013
Fri, Sep 20, 2013, 7:09 am // Dick ConoboyHearing held on 11 September. Comment period extended 10 days. Effects on home owners already manifest.
8 comments; last on Sep 22, 2013
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Mon, Sep 09, 2013, 12:07 am // Wendy HarrisThe staff will be explaining the public's concerns, but the public is not allowed to testify.
Fri, Sep 06, 2013, 2:52 pm // Wendy HarrisElected officials continue to rely on inaccurate and misleading reports by the city and port staff regarding waterfront development.
Wed, Sep 04, 2013, 8:37 am // John ServaisAn attempt at linking to one or more writers who can help us make sense of going to war with Syria. An alternative to Kerry-Obama.
Wed, Sep 04, 2013, 12:36 am // John ServaisContacting Rick Larsen and Susan Delbene is actually a viable citizen exercise just now. Tell them to vote NO on bombing Syria.
1 comments; last on Sep 04, 2013
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