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