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  • Nov 3-5

<span class="caps">COAL</span> — The Documentary

The North­west is direct­ly in the mid­dle of an impor­tant con­tro­ver­sy about whether or not coal export ter­mi­nals should be built.  Such ter­mi­nals have the poten­tial to open up extreme­ly lucra­tive mar­kets for the world’s dirt­i­est fos­sil fuel at a time when the U.S. econ­o­my con­tin­ues to strug­gle, but the poten­tial envi­ron­men­tal impacts sim­ply can’t be ignored.  Coal is a new doc­u­men­tary that attempts to present a bal­anced intro­duc­tion to the com­plex­i­ties of the debate that is rag­ing rel­a­tive to SSA Marine’s pro­posed Gate­way Pacif­ic Ter­mi­nal near Belling­ham, WA, which is pro­ject­ed to han­dle 52 mil­lion tons of coal exports a year, most of which would be bound for Asia.  Film­mak­ers Katie Camp­bell and Michael Wern­er tell the sto­ry through an array of voic­es from both sides of the con­tro­ver­sy, mak­ing it clear that the oppos­ing sides real­ly oper­ate in sep­a­rate uni­vers­es, arriv­ing at their con­clu­sions in total­ly dif­fer­ent ways.

Pro­po­nents of the ter­mi­nal, rep­re­sent­ed by SSA Marine’s Bob Wat­ters and artic­u­late blue-col­lar work­ers, focus on the here-and-now: long­shore­man Dar­ren Williams under­stand­ably wants a job near­er his Belling­ham home; min­er Phil Dillinger and train engi­neer Shar­raim Allen like their jobs and have no con­cerns about han­dling coal. Jobs and exports are good, and the ter­mi­nals will obey envi­ron­men­tal reg­u­la­tions. Coal will be mined and burned in any event.  Oppo­nents focus on the coal terminal’s envi­ron­men­tal impacts, includ­ing cli­mate change.

Recent devel­op­ments in the approval process reflect the con­sid­er­able pres­sure of pub­lic opin­ion.  What­com Coun­ty and its reg­u­la­to­ry state and fed­er­al part­ners have announced they will con­duct a sweep­ing review of Gate­way Pacif­ic Terminal’s envi­ron­men­tal impacts — an appar­ent vic­to­ry for the coal terminal’s oppo­nents.  In a joint press release issued Wednes­day, July 31, the three lev­els of gov­ern­ment announced that they “will close­ly study their direct effects at the site and eval­u­ate a broad range of indi­rect and cumu­la­tive impacts like­ly to occur with­in and beyond Wash­ing­ton.” The study also will include “an assess­ment of how the project would affect human health, includ­ing impacts from relat­ed rail and ves­sel trans­porta­tion in What­com Coun­ty.” The state and coun­ty also have agreed to take it one step far­ther, to require “an eval­u­a­tion of green­house gas emis­sions from ter­mi­nal oper­a­tions, and rail and ves­sel traf­fic.”

Gate­way Pacif­ic sup­port­ers had argued for a nar­row­er focus, say­ing it was unfair to con­sid­er project impacts far from the site. Some busi­ness lead­ers observed that such broad envi­ron­men­tal review require­ments could have a chill­ing effect on oth­er major indus­tri­al devel­op­ment projects in the state.

Run­ning time:  27 min­utes