Bellingham, WA – A group of coal, railroad, and financial corporations want to build North America's largest coal export terminal in Washington State. They are proposing to construct a huge “Gateway Pacific Terminal” just north of Bellingham to ship 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.
The proposed project has provoked huge opposition from local residents. Coal is the main contributor to global warming. Bellingham residents who take great pride in the town's beautiful environment want 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, and environment and cause 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. So far, unfortunately, both the labor and environmentalist leaders are falling into the trap.
On one side, labor leaders are supporting the project because of the temporary 2,000 construction jobs and the 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 make no real effort to alleviate the severe unemployment crisis.
It is essential we do not fall into the corporations’ divide-and-conquer trap. SSA Marine, the main corporation behind this project, is a vicious anti-union company that succeeded in locking longshore workers out from work in 2002 when the workers were fighting for a contract that would defend their jobs, healthcare, and pensions. Peabody Energy, the coal company behind the project, has a similar brutal record of super-exploiting miners. So why are the labor leaders defending these corporations today when the corporations stabbed workers in the back yesterday?
It is absolutely vital that unions and environmentalists form an alliance. How? By uniting and launching a campaign to demand 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 primary concern of the unemployed and under-employed. We must support job creation, but we must demand green union jobs instead of the proposed 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.
Green union jobs could also be generated from Bellingham’s waterfront redevelopment project, but we need to demand that this project be accelerated and that the jobs be high-paying union jobs.
Bail Out Workers Not Wall Street
Any benefits workers might receive from the Gateway Pacific Terminal will be massively dwarfed by the harm to 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 the BNSF rail-lines 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 workers and environmentalists succeed in building connections with each other and especially if we organize a movement of mass protests, 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 and organized a huge protest of 50,000 people against our common enemy - big business.
In August, the TWU and ATU unions came out against the environmentally destructive Keystone XL tar sands 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 highlight the demand for green union jobs at the forefront of this struggle and seriously press politicians, corporations, and unions on this urgent matter.
The companies claim their coal terminal will minimize environmental damage, but we shouldn’t 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 profit-driven corporations or the politicians from either of their two parties, the Republicans or the Democrats. All of the city, county, state, and federal politicians are currently allowing the project to go ahead. At least nine of the politicians who may decide whether this project goes ahead received thousands of dollars directly from the corporations behind this project – Democratic U.S. Senator Patty Murray, Democratic U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell, Democratic Governor Christine Gregoire, Democratic Bellingham mayor Kelly Linville, Republican Attorney General Rob McKenna, and Republican Senator Doug Ericksen.
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. The Democrats are completely compromised by their ties to big business, and they are not waging the determined struggle we need to stop the terminal.
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, student walk-outs, and civil disobedience. 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. If necessary, we should organize another blockade of the railroad tracks like the one on December 12, 2011, but even larger.
The future character of this county depends on whether we succeed in organizing mass rallies and if necessary, civil disobedience, by large numbers of people to show the corporations and their politicians that we are serious about not allowing this project to go through, 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 checks payable to Socialist Alternative to 1108 E Maple St, Bellingham, WA 98225.
Article updated 5/08/12.