Digging for China
Source: Jason Mark, The American Prospect
Few U.S. communities can match the eco credentials of the quaint college town of Bellingham, Washington. Nestled between the glacier-tipped peak of Mount Baker and the rugged coastline of the Puget Soundthe “Salish Sea,” as locals prefer to call itthe area is a magnet for hikers, climbers, and kayakers. The town boasts a vibrant local-food scene, with two summer farmers markets and a pair of organic grocery stores. The City of Bellingham and the surrounding Whatcom County government get 100 percent of their electricity from renewable sources, a practice that earned both recognition from the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Green Power Leadership program. The Natural Resources Defense Council has dubbed Bellingham one of its “Smarter Cities” for the town’s commitment to reducing its ecological footprint.
So it’s no surprise that many Bellingham residents are against plans to make the area home to one of the country’s largest coal-export terminals. Peabody Energy, the world’s biggest non-state-owned coal-mining company, is working with developers to convert the Cherry Point pierslocated just north of town on the U.S.-Canada borderinto a port capable of exporting 50 million metric tons of coal a year. Locals of all stripes have come together to fight the proposal. “I’m exhilarated and exhausted by the number of people who are energized by this,” says Matt Krogh, a campaigner at the Bellingham community organization Re-Sources. “They are businessmen, they are environmentalists, they are fishermen and farmers and tribal members who are outraged by this clearly moronic idea.” The controversy has sparked protests and heated exchanges on the letters page of The Bellingham Herald. In March, 450 people (in a town of 80,000) turned out for a meeting organized by the Army Corps of Engineers to decide the scope of the environmental impact study for the potential port.
Similar battles are brewing across the Pacific Northwest. The Bellingham port is one of six terminals that coal-mining companies want to build in Washington and Oregon to boost sales to the industrial powerhouses of Asia. In Longview, Washington, Arch Coal and the Australian coal company Ambre Energy want to turn a former aluminum-smelting plant into a port that could ship 44 million metric tons of coal annually. Ambre is also behind a plan to move coal by barge down the Columbia River from the Port of Morrow to Port Westward, where the fuel would be loaded onto ships. The terminal at Port Westward would be able to transport some 30 million metric tons of coal a year. Other ports are being considered for Coos Bay in Oregon and Grays Harbor in Washington.
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