Bellingham: activist group wants to legally stop coal shipments through B-Ham

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From Seattle Times. Jan 3rd, 2012.

A citizens group said it intends to propose an ordinance that would prohibit any transport of coal through Bellingham, in reaction to a proposal to build a shipping terminal capable of handling large volumes of cargo that would include coal bound for China.

Bellingham group seeks to halt transport of coal

BELLINGHAM — A citizens group said it intends to propose an ordinance that would prohibit any transport of coal through Bellingham.

The plan came in reaction to a proposal to build a shipping terminal capable of handling large volumes of cargo that would largely include coal bound for China.

Rick Dubrow, a key organizer of the new political-action committee called No Coal!, told The Bellingham Herald last week that the group will release its proposed city ordinance on Jan. 26.

The ordinance would prohibit any transport of coal through Bellingham by rail or any other means — a move intended to thwart plans by SSA Marine of Seattle for its proposed Gateway Pacific Terminal at Cherry Point north of Bellingham.

SSA Marine spokesman Craig Cole had little to say about the proposed ordinance but indicated in an email that railroad operations are beyond the city authority. “Such matters are governed by federal and state constitutions and laws,” Cole said.

The company announced its plan in 2010.

Union leaders and some small-city mayors were quick to endorse the proposed terminal as a source of much-needed jobs and tax revenue.

But environmentalists denounced the idea as a contributor to global warming as well as local pollution and disruption of traffic at railroad crossings.

Bellingham officials have said they would have no direct control over coal trains that would pass through the city if the terminal is built. The new group aims to change that but likely faces overwhelming legal odds.

The U.S. government regulates the interstate rail system, and BNSF Railway has a legal right of way through the city.

BNSF spokeswoman Suann Lundsberg said federal law requires the railroad to ship coal and other legal cargo that shippers want to move via rail.

Dubrow and Stoney Bird, an ex-corporate attorney working with the Bellingham group, said they want to set new legal groundwork that would put the rights of communities and ecosystems on equal or greater footing with the rights of railroads and corporations.

The Bellingham group is taking its cue from the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund, which was involved in a successful 2010 effort to get the Pittsburgh, Pa., City Council to ban fracking, also known as hydraulic fracturing, for natural gas within the city limits.

In Pittsburgh, the council adopted an anti-fracking ordinance without a citizen vote. Dubrow said he and his group would be open to that approach in Bellingham, as long as the council would be willing to pass their proposed ordinance as is.

He said the group also is prepared to launch a petition drive to get the measure on the ballot.

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