Monday, December 12, 2011

RE Sources files suit against SSA Marine for Clean Water Act violations at Cherry Point


CONTACT: Todd Elsworth, (360) 739-8458,
RE Sources files suit against SSA Marine for Clean Water Act violations at Cherry Point
Whatcom County, WA — RE Sources for Sustainable Communities today filed suit against Pacific International Terminals, Inc., SSA Marine’s subsidiary corporation created to develop the proposed Gateway Pacific Terminal (GPT) at Cherry Point.

“SSA Marine knowingly flaunted an array of county, state, and federal regulations when they built roads damaging forests and wetlands last summer,” said Bob Ferris, executive director of RE Sources. “And now they want immediate forgiveness for creating impacts that could take decades to recover. That is simply unacceptable.”

SSA violated the federal Clean Water Act by filling wetlands while clearing nine acres for geotechnical exploration. The clearing occurred almost two weeks after Whatcom County rejected SSA’s request for a permit revision that would have expanded the footprint of the proposed terminal. SSA’s original permit did not allow any construction in the areas cleared for geotechnical exploration.

While Whatcom County has issued a minor penalty, SSA has yet to perform mitigation or receive an after-the-fact permit from the Army Corps of Engineers for their wetlands damage.

“SSA Marine is like a motorist pulled over for speeding in a clearly marked school zone, who then claims to not deserve a ticket because they slowed down after getting caught,” said Ferris.  “We value Cherry Point, and we respect our laws and processes. SSA Marine should do the same.”

“If SSA were a small company or had a stellar environmental reputation, some measure of leniency might be called for. But these guys are the largest port operator in North America, and have a history of environmental violations. This clearing was a blatant violation of the rules,” said Matt Krogh, North Sound Baykeeper.

The suit will be handled by the law firm of Smith and Lowney in Seattle. RE Sources, a 501(c) 3 non-profit organization, runs the North Sound Baykeeper program to protect marine and fresh water. Neither RE Sources nor the North Sound Baykeeper receive financial benefits from lawsuits filed under the auspices of the citizen suit provision of the Clean Water Act.


Filling and degrading a little over an acre of wetlands pales in comparison to SSA’s plans to destroy 141 acres of wetlands and degrade an additional 21 acres as part of the proposed GPT coal terminal. If built, GPT would be North America’s largest coal terminal.

“As Whatcom County starts the process of deciding whether or not to permit this coal terminal, we have to keep in mind the critical importance of the Cherry Point ecosystem,” said Krogh. “Cherry Point Pacific herring and Dungeness crab are essential to the health of the Salish Sea and fisheries in this reach. If this terminal is built, both will be threatened by the vessel traffic necessary to transport 48 million tons of coal.”

The GPT terminal would be served by up to 487 bulk carriers annually. Bulk carriers--with the worst safety record on the seas--would transit through Rosario and Haro Straits, on the east and west side of the San Juan Islands. These straits are key habitat for marine wildlife including the endangered Southern Resident orcas.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Invest in Good Banks

Yesterday I had an opportunity to spend time with the senior management team of One Pacific Coast Bank (OPCB) which is the result of a merger between One California Bank and our local leader in sustainable banking—ShoreBank Pacific. 

Kat Taylor co-founder of One California Bank was present and I was extremely impressed with her candor, vision, and mission.  She and the OPCB team totally understand the need for and obligation of banks to be socially responsible actors.  Bringing change to this broken banking system of ours—which is bringing us destructive projects like the Cherry Point coal terminal and the Keystone XL pipeline—is going to take all the awareness that the Occupy Wall Street (OWS) movement can possibly generate coupled with a massive migration of assets and viable lending requests to these triple-bottom line and community-focused banks like OPCB. 

The irony in this equation is that windows at the Oakland branch of OPCB were recently broken during OWS demonstrations.  To me this really demonstrates the need for message clarity and discipline.  OWS and others seeking to change the system must be surgical.  Corporations are not bad, but there are certainly bad and abusing corporations out there.  Capitalism is not bad per se but there are a myriad of abuses in our capitalistic system. 

I am not normally an advocate for adding nomenclature, but we need a term for corporations that are fiscally, environmentally and politically abusive and not generally operating in the public’s interest.  Corporations were—after all—originally chartered and given special tax privileges with the understanding that this construct was a public benefit. 

If people were acting in a manner that caused harm to many and our general well-being we would call them jerks or something stronger.  Criticism of a “jerk” is understood and certainly does not mean that we dislike all people.  The progressive movement simply needs a communication avenue that differentiates the Peabody Energy and Goldman Sachs of the world from these triple-bottom line actors.

All of us also need to get directly engaged in manners and at levels far removed from where we are today.  OWS and the entire progressive movement are on their way towards making a point.  We will not succeed in the long run unless we also make a difference.  I would urge our allies and others to look for ways to materially help those economic interests that fully embrace triple bottom line thinking.  If we seek them out, promote them ourselves, and make them successful, then we all succeed.

- Bob Ferris
Executive Director