Tuesday, November 20, 2012

RE Sources Urges Whatcom County Residents to Comment on Coal

Published: November 18, 2012 

Let's face it. The impacts of 18 one-and-a-half mile long coal trains rumbling past our houses, parks and schools will be severe. Not only will these trains block vehicle access to the waterfront, clog downtown streets, and reduce property values, but unless we are diligent, taxpayers could be on the hook for 95 percent of the cost of necessary railroad upgrades, such as overpasses and new sidings. Add that to the increased risk of cancer, asthma and respiratory illness and it just doesn't add up. 

So how do we stop a coal train? We stop a coal terminal. And the way we do that is by participating in the regulatory process. Unglamorous? Yes. But the best weapon in the fight to defend our community is our collective voice.

From now until Jan. 21 regulators are asking citizens to comment on the scope and content of the environmental impact assessment for the Gateway Pacific Terminal. Before they study the effects of siting North America's largest coal export facility in our backyard, they're asking you, "What environmental, economic and social impacts should be considered?"

For nearly 20 years, RE Sources has been working to protect Cherry Point from the potentially devastating impacts of a fourth pier. Currently, we are developing our own set of questions, concerns and alternatives for consideration when they assess impacts. Here are some of the issues that RE Sources' scoping comments will focus on:

Vessels: At full build-out, 487 Cape- and Panamax-sized ships would visit Gateway Pacific Terminal every year. Combine these with the additional ships proposed to serve new terminals for tar sands oil and LNG exports and the risk of a catastrophic oil spill goes through the roof. To properly evaluate the risks vessels pose, we are asking regulators to assess cumulative impacts of all current and proposed vessels that will travel through the Salish Sea and Unimak Pass-the gateway to valuable Bristol Bay fisheries and one of the world's dangerous waterways.

Herring: Cherry Point is home to a unique species of herring that spawns in the spring, perfectly timed with the migration of spring Chinook. No herring equals no Chinook. RE Sources asks for a full assessment of impacts from the pier, ships and coal dust on this keystone species.

Runoff: When it rains, how will the terminal operators keep toxics from 80 acres of coal heaps from seeping into groundwater or running off into the nearshore environment? How much mercury and PAH chemicals will this stormwater contain? What are the long-lasting impacts of these toxics?

Wetlands: If built, Gateway Pacific Terminal would destroy 141 acres of wetlands and degrade another 21 acres. The Environmental Impact Statement must address how to protect water quality at Cherry Point. Remember, they want to pile 48 million tons of coal per year on what is now a highly-functioning wetland system.  

Coal dust: Regardless of what project proponents tell us, Gateway Pacific Terminal will have a dust problem. Eighty acres of coal heaps near the shore will regularly be moved and rotated, because otherwise, they may start on fire - the kind of coal that this terminal plans to export is prone to spontaneous combustion. At nearby Westshore Terminal an estimated 700 tons of coal dust per year blows onto the surrounding farm fields, shorelines and community. We need to understand coal dust impacts on agriculture, beaches, fish and birds.

 While we at RE Sources prepare our scoping comments, I urge you to do the same. Think about how the proposed project, vessels, and associated trains will impact you, your family and your livelihood. Ask that these impacts be studied and measured. Consider the significance of those impacts, the costs, and who will bear those costs. Write (or speak) from the heart and have your voice heard.

More information on the process and how to write a scoping comment can be found at eisgatewaypacificwa.gov.

Crina Hoyer is the executive director of RE Sources for Sustainable Communities. RE Sources is a non-profit environmental organization working to protect our local waterways from the potential impacts of the proposed coal port. Other programs include the North Sound Baykeeper, Sustainable Schools, The Sustainable Living Center and The RE Store. Go to re-sources.org for more information.

Read more.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

A Time to Empower Our Communities

by Daniel M. Kammen

The Pacific Northwest and the San Francisco Bay Area, where I live, are both areas where people are proud of their innovative local communities, their universities and the exceptional local natural beauty.  We are fortunate enough to live in areas that have a real opportunity to do something about the both the persisting economic doldrums and the growing threats to our local and the global environment.

Everyday the headlines bring home economic challenges and conflicts due to energy resources.  Conflicted agendas in the Middle East, the power behind Hugo Chavez, the Keystone pipeline, the current China-Japan tension over the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands, and so forth.  The list changes week by week, but the story is the same.  

What is most amazing is that while energy demand is growing at record rates in developing nations, we are not acting on the clear advantage we have in providing that energy in ways that benefit us all. Nobel Prize winning work has shown that technological innovation is central to economic growth and job creation.

So what do we do?  My laboratory in Berkeley publishes a regular update[1] on the job creation record of fossil fuel and renewable energy and energy efficiency industries, and that track record is clear: per dollar invested renewables and efficiency generate significantly more jobs than the fossil fuel sector.  That is not to say we don’t, at least for now, need a portfolio of options, but if we want to meet a vast and growing global need, and do so rapidly and cleanly, it is clear which sector can deliver the goods: clean and efficient energy products.  

Take solar power as just one example where US universities and industrial laboratories have been leaders for decades.

The capacity of the solar industry to create jobs is similarly clear-cut. My laboratory regularly reviews the actual job return on energy investment, and solar installation creates five or more times the number of jobs than a comparable natural gas power plant.[i]  And these jobs span a range of sectors.  Not only has the US solar industry produced more than 100,000 jobs (a doubling since 2009) with another 25,000 expected in the next 12 months, the vast majority of these jobs are in finance, services, and installation—not manufacturing.  Solar simply doesn’t provide a lot of manufacturing jobs in any country, and the number is dwindling further with automation.  That’s why blocking imports is the wrong move. Tens of thousands of Americans are employed across the country in the solar value chain, and are relying on quality solar panels from many nations, including, China for their jobs.  Any effort to lock out the competition will drive up panel prices and reduce sales, stunting domestic job growth and stifling innovation in the field as a whole.

Even Sen. Jeff Merkley of Oregon, one of the supporters of a petition ironically filed by German-based SolarWorld against Chinese solar panel manufacturers, has acknowledged that punitive tariffs against Chinese solar panels would immediately result in job losses to American installers in what he described as “short-term shock.” This begs the question of why the U.S. government would attempt to effectively pick technology winners from Germany by applying punitive tariffs against Chinese companies when what is needed is to encourage competition among all promising companies.

As tragic as the loss of Solyndra may be, some perspective is needed.  The federal loan guarantee program that supported Solyndra, as imperfect as it is, has actually done a better job in the difficult area of ‘picking winners’ than has Wall Street.

The reason for the drop we have seen in solar panel prices, which in-turn led to the downfall of Solyndra and likely others is quite simply scale of manufacturing.  A number of the larger solar manufacturers are now manufacturing solar panels on such a scale that they have brought the cost of solar down dramatically.

What is needed?  Clearly leaders in the public and private sector with true global expertise and vision can help identify these ‘best bets’.  More broadly, however, we need community partnerships that value new jobs and lifelong learning, and targeting the fast-changing energy sector is a great place to start.

Daniel M. Kammen is the Distinguished Professor of energy at the University of California, Berkeley, and will be the Feagle Lecturer at the University of Washington on October 8, as well as lecturing at Orcas Crossroads. From 2010 to 2011, he was the first chief technical specialist for renewable energy and energy efficiency at the World Bank, and is a member of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which shared the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize.

[1] http://rael.berkeley.edu/greenjobs

[i] These results are available in regular publications and free online modeling tools produced in my research laboratory that are widely used in the energy sector (http://rael.berkeley.edu/greenjobs).

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Not the First Bad Idea, Not the Last

by Crina Hoyer

Here in the northwest corner of Washington State we have a long history of stopping bad ideas before they start. 

When outside corporations proposed a nuclear power plant in Skagit County, when an aluminum smelter was proposed for Guemes Island, when the SE2 power plant was proposed in Sumas or when the Georgia Strait Crossing pipeline idea was put forward - we stopped them.

We spoke up by the hundreds - sometimes by the thousands - and actively participated in the process. We testified, wrote letters, submitted comments and made sure that the decision makers we elected to represent us voted for a brighter, cleaner future for our community.

When it comes to the plan to site North America's largest coal export terminal at the Cherry Point Aquatic Reserve, we expect the same result.

The recent success by the volunteers with Proposition 2 in collecting 10,000 signatures in just a few months underscores the strength and depth of the concern local citizens have with this massive coal terminal. Even though Bellingham voters won't have this on their November ballot, the public concerns aren't going away. If anything, they're getting stronger.

At RE Sources we've been working to channel this public concern into productive public participation. Three months ago RE Sources and Power Past Coal quietly opened a campaign office in downtown Bellingham to empower people to participate in the review process for the coal terminal. While SSA, Peabody Coal and Burlington Northern have deep pockets for slick mailings, newspaper ads and paid canvassers to deliver propaganda to your doorstep, they are up against a more powerful force: you.
 In the past few months hundreds of people have volunteered to make more than 20,000 phone calls to residents of Whatcom County. What we hear from every corner is that people are worried. North America's largest coal export terminal may cost us too much:

... higher taxes when the public is forced to subsidize railroad crossings; lost economic opportunities when businesses locate elsewhere; loss of our crab fishery at Cherry Point; harm to our salmon runs and the potential for a catastrophic spill if SSA is allowed to add 974 massive, heavy ship transits through the Straits each year.

Peabody Coal, SSA and Burlington Northern envision a grim future for us. But if their ideas were right for our county, they wouldn't need high-powered PR firms, TV ads and glossy mailers to sell them to us! Whatcom County is a great place to live, work and raise our families. I envision a cleaner, better future for Whatcom County. We can do better than a coal terminal.
Let's focus on what we want: good jobs at a redeveloped waterfront, renewable energy systems that ensure long-term security, local businesses that thrive and expand and an agricultural and fishing economy that can provide high-quality food for the world. That's the vision Whatcom County has talked about for more than a decade but we can't have that future if we are also host to North America's largest coal export terminal.

If you'd like to help get the word out about the ill-conceived plans for the coal terminal, stop by our office in downtown Bellingham. Join hundreds of your neighbors in empowering our community to participate in the process. We promise you this: if you donate two hours, you can make a difference for a better future for Whatcom County.

This isn't the first bad idea we've stopped cold in the northwest. It probably won't be the last. But together we can win.

Crina Hoyer is the executive director of RE Sources for Sustainable Communities. RE Sources promotes sustainable communities through education, advocacy and the conservation of natural resources. For information online go to re-sources.org

Read more here: http://www.bellinghamherald.com/2012/09/04/2670659/bellingham-ballot-loss-not-stopping.html#storylink=cpy

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Aquatic Reserve Stewardship Groups Up & Running

by Wendy Steffensen

Stormwater Lee and I (“the scientist”) argue about who has the best job in the world. Well, I’m here to tell you that sitting in with 10-20 engaged citizens trying to preserve, protect, and learn about their special places ranks right near the top of the list of coolest things to do.

RE Sources has partnered as the local organization with People for Puget Sound to facilitate citizen stewardship committees for the Fidalgo Bay and Cherry Point Aquatic Reserves. The stewardship committees are designed to implement projects associated with management plans for the Department of Natural Resources (DNRs) Aquatic Reserves. As citizen committees, they will focus on the activities that citizens can do, including education & outreach, citizen science and monitoring, and technical review.

We recently had our first stewardship meetings for both Fidalgo Bay and Cherry Point. These first meetings were pretty process-heavy, with Maddie Foutch, staff lead on the Aquatic Reserve project, giving a general overview, and Heather Trim, giving the logistics and outlining the process to obtain a charter and work plan. Both Maddie and Heather work for People For Puget Sound, the organization that received a grant from WDFW/DNR to implement stewardship committees in 5 of the 7 Aquatic Reserves in Puget Sound. As the local representative, I gave an overview of the local interests concerned about the reserves and the activities that have taken place in the reserves to date.

In Fidalgo, the interests who have been most active include the Samish Nation, the Skagit County Marine Resources Committee, the Skagit County Beachwatchers, and the Friends of Skagit Beaches. These groups have worked to promote and conduct educational, monitoring and restoration activities in and around the reserve.

At Cherry Point, the most active interests have included the Lummi Nation, the industrial facilities within the reserve footprint, and several environmental groups and individuals with a long-history of championing Cherry Point as an environmental treasure. This latter group includes North Cascades Audubon, our very own RE Sources, and individuals  including Fred Felleman (local refinery and orca expert) and Marie Hitchman (local botanist). Activities at the reserve have mostly been confined to trash pickups and naturalist education.

The differences in stakeholders and activities in these reserves stem from the layout of the reserves, the amount of public access to the reserve, and the proximity to population centers. The Fidalgo Bay Aquatic Reserve lies mostly with the City of Anacortes boundary, whereas Cherry Point is West of Ferndale and far afield for many folks. While both reserves are influenced by nearby industrial activity, the influence at Cherry Point is undoubtedly greater. The Fidalgo Bay Reserve is adjacent to 2 oil refineries, whereas 3 industrial facilities, 2 refineries and an aluminum smelter, are actually bounded by the Cherry Point Reserve on three sides. Public access to Cherry Point is also more  limited as much of the shoreland is owned by the industrial facilities which operate there. The differences in the Aquatic Reserve layouts and access options will likely lend themselves to different stewardship activities.

In addition to the Reserves themselves, however, the committees will also drive different stewardship activities. That is the most exciting part of the citizen stewardship committees. The committee itself will choose the most important, exciting, and achievable work in which to engage, while still adhering to the general guidelines of the Aquatic Reserve management plans.

The ideas and discourse in the Anacortes Public Library and the Birch Bay Bible Church came fast and furious. There was good dialogue, laughter, and puzzling through logistics. In Fidalgo, there were the logistical questions about who was doing what already and how does the group fill an unexploited niche that satisfies DNR needs and the community. Who should the committee hear from and in what order? And, then there were the immediate self-nominations for chair, vice-chair, and a charter committee who will present a charter at the next meeting. In the Cherry Point meeting, there was the strong and unanimous desire to start the next meeting focused on potential citizen science project prioritization right away, in order to pick a project and achieve some real measurable results.

In both places, citizens were engaged. These citizens are volunteering their time to work on the Fidalgo Bay and Cherry Point Aquatic Reserves to make a difference in our civic and actual landscape. I get to facilitate the work of two different groups, coming together as a working committee to protect, preserve and learn about their special places. I get to be part of a community that is working on behalf of our natural world. This truly feeds my heart and soul. Cool job, huh?
If you are interested in learning more or joining on of these committees, contact Wendy Steffensen, or Maddie Foutch.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Rain Changes at RE Sources

By Hannah Coughlin & Anitra Accetturo

As the RE Patch community garden continues to evolve behind The RE Store, community members get to see forward-thinking practices constructed and installed before their eyes.
Just last month, another exciting feature was added to the education garden: a 500-gallon gravity-fed rainwater harvesting system. Installed as a demonstration project by the City of Bellingham, these two lovely 250-gallon food-grade liquid storage tanks were diverted from the waste stream and recycled for new life as a second rainwater harvesting system for the garden. This project beautifully demonstrates both water AND resource conservation.

With the base construction help of builder and friend Ant Chaplin, the system now sits atop two engineered bases. RE Sources and the City co-hosted a workshop series entitled: Rainwater Harvesting & Smart Use, to illuminate the permitting and installation process to the public. This system was successfully constructed and installed by attendees of this workshop… in the rain!

The City of Bellingham Public Works Department operates a water conservation program, focused on more efficient and source-appropriate use of our water resources. The program provides educational materials, resources, and incentives to promote water conservation. Demonstration projects like these are intended to model the process and potential of harvesting larger quantities of rainwater to help reduce drinking water demand during the drier months of the year.

The new system, plus our three-cistern, 825-gallon rainwater catchment system on the North side of the garden (a different type of demonstration project, also installed by the City’s Water Conservation Program), allows the RE Patch to subsist entirely on rainwater. Not only does utilizing rain water eliminate the garden’s impact on our potable water supply, it’s free, plants prefer it, and our marine ecosystems prefer it (when rain falls, it runs down impervious surfaces, collects pollution, and deposits it into our bodies of water – in this case, Bellingham Bay. Catching and watering plants with rainwater mitigates that pollution by filtering the rainwater through plants and organic matter).

Collaborative government and non-profit projects such as these help steer  the way toward more widely adopted sustainable practices in our community.

RE Sources & the City of Bellingham will continue to co-host workshops to provide information to the public on rainwater system sizing, design considerations, and permitting requirements to conserve and protect our community's valuable water resources.

Don't miss the sundry upcoming workshops during September's Water Week in Whatcom County. RE Sources will be partnering with the City to host a Rain Barrel Construction & Installation workshop, an Efficient Irrigation with Collected Rainwater workshop, and a Restoration Work Party at Little Squalicum Park. Contact HannahC@re-sources.org or call (360) 733.8307 to find out more. 

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Big Changes for Kulshan Middle School

by Riley Grant

There’s a common misconception that one person cannot make big changes in the world, but Criss Forslund, a science teacher at Kulshan Middle School, has taken on that task and proven what a little hard work and dedication can accomplish. Engaging her 6th grade students, Criss brought several community programs into her classroom during the 2011-12 school year. As a result, she and her students reduced their school’s carbon footprint and begin working toward zero waste – making our world more sustainable one school at a time!

First, with support from RE Sources education staff, Criss and her 6th grade extended learning class implemented the Cool School Challenge (a program that engages students in reducing school-wide polluting emissions, utility bills and energy use). After conducting classroom energy, waste and transportation audits, the students presented each teacher with customized action plans for how to reduce their carbon footprint. Initially their goal was to reduce the school’s annual CO2 emissions by 20,000 pounds. In just a matter of months their goal was exceeded, reducing Kulshan Middle School’s carbon footprint by 27,351 pounds per school year – that’s also an $8,516 savings on utility bills!

To continue the school’s progress, Criss worked with RE Sources education staff to conduct a school-wide waste audit. After surveying a days worth of garbage, the class found that over 50% of the material by weight that ended up in the garbage was compostable, with nearly 50% of the classroom garbage exclusively paper towels. After realizing this problem, the students signed on for the Toward Zero Waste pledge to reduce their school’s waste by 50%. The students named themselves the GreenRRR’s and took on pirate personas as they created posters and delivered classroom presentations to educate their peers about ways to reduce their school’s waste. The effects of this year’s waste reduction journey will be tested next year with another waste audit in the fall (and hopefully another group of inspired students).

Criss was able to use other community programs, including Alcoa’s Make an Impact campaign and Puget Sound Energy’s Powerful Choices curriculum, to provide support to her class, receive some financial incentives and gain tools to record and monitor Kulshan Middle School’s successes. Criss is also attending several professional development programs this summer to learn more about integrating sustainability education into her science curriculum.

One teacher really can make change happen. The secret to Criss’s success lies in her willingness and ability to seek out existing community programs and customize them to work within her district’s curriculum. She and her students are an inspiration to RE Sources staff and hopefully a motivation for other teachers. A big shout out to Criss and her amazing students at Kulshan Middle School – keep it up!

For more information on RE Sources educational programs or other sustainable school programs, contact RE Sources Education Staff at schools@re-sources.org or (360) 733-8307.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Together, We Can Do Better

Community Activism Ramping up at Our New Field Office
by Crina Hoyer
A year and a half ago, RE Sources joined a coalition of six groups (now called Power Past Coal) to stop coal export from the west coast. We got into this fight because the proposed Gateway Pacific Terminal at Cherry Point threatened nearly 15 years of work to protect this rich marine ecosystem, now a state-owned Aquatic Reserve. We stay in this fight because the notion of this project is counter to every idea, value and belief that we at RE Sources hold. We know that our community can do better. We know that together we can build a vibrant local economy, have living wage jobs and a high quality of life without selling ourselves to the highest (or is it lowest?) bidder.

Like you, we cannot fathom our county hosting North America’s largest coal export facility. We can’t picture downtown Bellingham choked by coal trains. We can’t believe a short-sighted project such as this--one that is based on shipping a dirty, carbon-based fuel to our economic competitors--is worth risking our health, community’s character, tourism dollars, property values, fisheries, local businesses, agricultural land, clean water, and safe shipping channels.

We are doing everything within our power to stop this project, but we need you.

Last week we opened a field office in downtown Bellingham. We signed a lease for 5 months and committed making 200,000 phone calls, knocking on thousands of doors and speaking to countless people who we think may agree with us. What are we asking of them? To participate in the process. To pay attention. To form a well-informed, reasonable opinion and then share it with their friends, neighbors, elected officials and government agencies. To attend scoping hearings, make formal comments, write letters to the editor, speak-out and help us instigate the largest environmental movement in Washington State history.

But those phones won’t get answered unless you help make calls. Those doors won’t get opened unless you knock. This proposal won’t be stopped unless you participate.

We have 1 month to organize before the scoping process begins. (Officials believe scoping will begin in July). We will have 60 days to make our voices heard.* We need to act quickly and we need your help.

      Call our field organizer, Matt Petryni today and sign-up for a 2-hr phone shift.       
      360 303 1660

      Drop by the office and pick up a walking map and information packet
      215 W Holly street

      Share this blog story with your friends and challenge them to help, too.

Thanks in advance.

Crina Hoyer

Interim Executive Director

*Regulators continue to debate over the length of the scoping process. In most cases, communities are allowed a 60-day comment period.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012


by Lindsay Taylor

Mining, shipping, and burning the dirtiest, most carbon-intensive fossil fuel on the planet continues to wreak havoc on the health of communities throughout Appalachia. Coal may be cheap, but the true cost is the price we end up paying by sacrificing our health, our environment, and our future.

One of America's most heartbreaking environmental and human rights tragedies, mountaintop removal for coal mining is destroying Appalachia's rich culture and heritage, as well as the beautiful, ancient mountains and diverse forests the region is known for. Although there are no plans to start mining coal again in Whatcom County, the legacy left by the Gateway Pacific Terminal, what would be North America's largest coal export facility, could be very similar here in the Pacific Northwest.

Join Appalachian Voices and RE Sources for Sustainable Communities on Friday, April 20th at 7pm in the YWCA Ballroom (located at 1026 N. Forest St. in Bellingham) for a powerful and compelling presentation on the impacts of mountaintop removal coal mining in Appalachia and the proposed coal export facilities here in the Pacific Northwest. Meet the people who are fighting to protect their homes, their families, and the mountains themselves from the irreversible destruction on the East Coast of our country and your local advocates who are working hard to prevent the West Coast from becoming a high volume coal corridor.

At the heart of this special event is the stunning Appalachian Treasures slide show, featuring photos of Appalachia and mining sites, voice recordings from coalfield residents, and traditional Appalachian music. An Appalachian coalfield resident will speak about daily life in the shadow of the mines, where residents are forced to contend with the destruction of water supplies, continual dynamite blasting that damages homes and wells and creates choking dust and the fear of fatal, catastrophic floods with every rainfall. Learn how you can help your neighbors in Appalachia end mountaintop removal and how to get involved in stopping coal export from Whatcom County.

This event is free and open to the public. Light refreshments will be provided.

For more information on this event, visit Re-Sources.org or call (360) 733-8307. For more information about mountaintop removal, visit AppVoices.org. For more information on the Power Past Coal campaign, visit PowerPastCoal.org

The North Sound Baykeeper Team is charged with protecting and enhancing the marine and nearshore habitats of the northern Puget Sound region. The Baykeeper is a program of RE Sources for Sustainable Communities, a local nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting sustainable communities through recycling, education, advocacy, and the conservation of natural resources.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Coal Terminal Update: Whose Process Is This?

Wednesday, March 21, 2012
by Jean Melious (photo by Paul Anderson)

As you've probably heard by now, there was a spillover crowd at Bellingham High School tonight for the Gateway Pacific Coal Terminal "pre-scoping" forum, put on by some very nervous lead agencies.

The police presence was quite noticeable, and the evening kicked off with stern warnings of expulsion for bad behavior. As it turns out, I was probably the worst-behaved person there, because I was bored to tears during the first hour and kept texting friends in order to keep awake. I'm glad that the police didn't cite me for rudeness.

Everybody else listened politely and quietly. I hope that they learned something. I use similar slides when I teach Environmental Impact Assessment, and I'm not convinced that they do any good at all. But more is at stake here, and adult learners predominated, so here's hoping that the information made sense.

The second hour allowed members of the audience to ask questions of a panel of agency personnel, including representatives of the County, the Department of Ecology, the Attorney General's office, and the Army Corps of Engineers. Randel Perry, representing the Army Corps, might need some training in bureaucratic double-speak, because he actually answered the questions that people asked him. The crowd didn't always like the answers, but Randel was knowledgeable and straightforward. Hooah to the Corps. Whatcom County's Tyler Schroeder got most of the questions and did his best to answer. When he didn't know something, he didn't pretend.

Some of the others were a little less accustomed to dealing with the public. That's a symptom, perhaps, of sitting around a table behind closed doors with the MAP team for the past two years. You come out into the daylight, blinking, and there's a room full of 800 just plain folks.

The questions were excellent. I wish that I could have answered one of them. My answer would have been different.

Somebody asked if the public comment period could be longer than 60 days, for both the scoping period and for review of the draft Environmental Impact Statement. The answer, boiled down to its essentials, was "no." (The actual answer didn't actually include the word "no" and took about 500 more words, but that was the gist of things.)

But guess what? The real answer is "yes."

The agencies can (and often do, at least under NEPA) provide more public review time. For a project of this magnitude, a 60-day scoping period is pretty minimal, and allowing only 60 days to review a draft Environmental Impact Statement that is projected to take two years to prepare would be crazy.

So why are the agencies saying that they won't provide more time?

Possibly because the applicant has to agree to a scoping period of longer than 30 days under SEPA (see WAC 197-11-410(4)), and perhaps the applicant doesn't want to agree to more than 60 days.

Applicants always want the shortest possible review periods. That way, people have less time to review. And maybe to criticize, or find problems, or raise difficult issues, or think of alternatives.

But let's think about this.
  • The applicant and the agencies have been meeting for two years. Two years to understand and process information relating to the project and its necessary permits.
  • The applicant submitted an incomplete application to Whatcom County and got extensions.
Isn't it a little bit lopsided for the agencies to meet in private for two years with the applicant, to give the applicant all the extensions that it wants, and then to turn to the public that wants more than 60 days to comment on the scope of this enormous project and say:

"MORE? You want MORE?"

The lead agencies could, quite reasonably, tell the applicant that more time is needed for public and agency review in order to prepare an adequate environmental impact statement. The applicant could put its foot down and say "no," of course, but it would do so on the understanding that the lead agencies did not believe that enough time was provided to prepare an adequate document. And the applicant would understand that, if the agencies don't believe that the document is adequate, they are under no obligation to approve the project.

As a result, the wise applicant will usually agree to reasonable extensions of time.

So why don't the agencies request a little more time for the public to have a say?

Don't forget, the reason that we have a MAP team is to expedite the process. For the applicant.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

RE Sources Rallies for a Fair Environmental Impact Assessment.

by Crina Hoyer

Join us and your community, next Tuesday, March 20th 5-6pm at Bellingham High School.

Tuesday, March 20th is a big day. It’s the first opportunity that the public will have to hear directly from the agencies responsible for determining the environmental impacts of the Gateway Pacific Terminal i.e. the coal port. Whatcom County representatives and the WA State Department of Ecology are hosting an Information Meeting on Environmental Review Process at the Bellingham High School at 6pm. March 20th is also a perfect opportunity for a community who opposes the coal terminal to send a clear message to decision-makers that we are still paying attention.

To clarify, the 6pm meeting is not part of the official permitting process as far as we can tell, but we’re happy that the County and Department of Ecology are hosting it. The purpose of their meeting is not to collect any official comments or hear from concerned citizens (that will happen later in the spring). The purpose is to familiarize people with the upcoming environmental review process that will likely start in a few months. But we can’t pass up any opportunity to communicate our concerns, therefore we need you and all of your friends to show up with signs, banners and noisemakers and help us show our permitting agencies that there are a lot of us who will be carefully scrutinizing this permitting and EIS process. Click here for more info on the EIS process and what will be discussed at the community meeting.

Join RE Sources and others at Bellingham High School at 5:00pm on Tuesday, March 20th for a pre-meeting rally. We want to turn out a thousand people, rain or shine, to help us demand a comprehensive environmental impact assessment.

For those of you who might need a little background info before you’re willing to storm the high school (written with tongue-in-cheek, of course), check-out these great articles from last week:

It's great for the coal cabal! For us, not so much.” by James Wells Written for the Daily Kos, this article begins with a great lead paragraph:

When big carbon comes to town, the resulting swath of destruction is economic as well as environmental. This should not be too much of a surprise for anybody who has been paying attention.

Great information can be found on Jean Melious’ blog. In her most recent post titled, “Coal Port News: A 2% Solution to Heavy Rail Traffic and At-Grade Railroad Crossings,” Jean discusses a recent conference held in Billings, Montana that focused on examining the impacts of coal train traffic on Billings’ downtown. Clearly this is a topic that should raise some concern in Bellingham.

Third, you might want to pull-up Floyd McKay’s recent article called, “Study questions coal's value to Bellingham,” written for Crosscut.com. As always, Floyd does a great job digging deep into the issue. He begins by writing:

As an environmental review approaches, opponents and supporters of exporting coal to China are angling to shape the perception of how a proposed facility will affect Bellingham and even cities like Seattle and Edmonds.

Grab your friends and neighbors and join RE Sources at our community rally for a fair environmental impact assessment at 5:00pm at Bellingham High School. See you next Tuesday!

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Money doesn’t grow on trees, but it may sprout in the least expected places.

By Hannah Coughlin

Eat More Nutritiously
Lower Grocery Bills.

With the economic changes in 2011 came a larger-than-expected i
ncrease in food prices (4.8% for home-consumers), leaving many families looking for solutions to reducing food bills while eating nutritious, organic foods. As a result, many households have turned to edible gardening as a way to offset costs. In fact, studies conducted by W. Atlee Burpee Co show that the return on investment for home-grown produce is better than 1 to 25. That’s $25 worth of produce for every $1 you sink into the ground! For families that go even further and freeze, can, or dry their harvest, the return climbs even higher.

Give them an inch, they’ll grow a pound. According to the National Gardening Association, one square foot of garden space can provide a half-pound of fresh vegetables (and that’s a conservative estimate). At current market prices for organic produce, even a small patio container garden can save you $100 in groceries.

There’s a first for everything. It’s understandable to be intimidated by the process of planting your first food garden, especially if you believe your restricted schedule, spatial limitations, or “brown thumb” have sealed your fate. Be encouraged. Plants want to grow – even in the Pacific Northwest. If you feel overwhelmed, start your first garden in a pot (there are plenty of container veggies and herbs to choose from). Half-a-dozen pots or one 3x3’ plot is a good start for beginners and will provide a satisfying harvest while you learn.

Help is available. Use it. There are countless resources just within Whatcom, Skagit and Island Counties to help you become a confident and successful food gardener. For hands-on workshops to lead you through the process step-by-step, consider attending The Savvy Urban Gardener workshop series above The RE Store March 6th – April 7th. You can also participate in monthly in-the-garden classes and work parties at The RE Patch community garden, which are always open to the public. For further resources of gardening assistance in your area, contact Hannah.

Top Ten Reasons why you should start an edible garden this year.
1. You can’t get more local than your backyard
2. A unique sense of empowerment and self-sufficiency
3. Peace of mind from knowing what’s in your food and where it came from
4. Higher nutrient levels in your food
5. Supplementing your household food supply and saving grocery money
6. The joy of dining on a meal of produce you grew
7. An opportunity to teach your kids (or roommates) where food comes from.
8. The ability to eat rare and expensive vegetable varieties (like heirloom tomatoes!)
9. Stress reduction from working with plants and soil.
10. A thinner waistline (you will inevitably eat more fruits and vegetables if you grow them)

As international horticulturist and instructor, Derek Duffy, puts it, “When you begin to see the life that springs up from a seedling, you will never forget it. You will naturally be inclined to nurture it to fruition. Like parenting, it’s equally rewarding and forever new.”