Western Washington University

“Clean coal” technology years away, but it could reduce Cherry Point bulk terminal’s impact

By Kimberly Cauvel and Marianne Graff
Western Washington University

Washington state is eliminating coal-fired power in an effort to reduce harmful emissions. China is attempting to reduce emissions using new technology for burning coal.

“Individual coal plants have different efficiencies and pollution rates. A plant in China may be more or less efficient than one in Washington based on the technology at the plant,” said Justin Brant, climate change policy analyst for the Washington Department of Ecology. “That said, climate change is a global issue and greenhouse gases produced in China have the same effect as those produced in Washington or anywhere else.”

Clean coal technology includes a variety of ways to reduce emissions. The five major emissions associated with coal burning are sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide, particulate matter, mercury and carbon dioxide, said Brad Tomer, director of the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Major Demonstrations.

Technologies exist or are currently under development to control these five types of emissions. Of particular controversy is the existence of carbon capture and storage: a process the Pew Center on Global Climate Change estimates could reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 90 percent.

“It’s not futuristic in the sense of pie in the sky,” Tomer said.  

Carbon capture and storage has its skeptics. Craig Benjamin of the Environmental Priorities Coalition said, “That doesn’t exist. It’s kind of like a unicorn: people like to talk about it — they’ve been talking about it for 30 years — but there’s no example of it.”

Trains' impact on daily life worries neighbors; would they imperil B'ham's $2 B waterfront remake?

By Gina Cole and Brianna Gibbs

Western Washington University 

BELLINGHAM – From its early days as a thriving logging and fishing port, through the decades of housing Georgia-Pacific West, Inc.’s paper mill, Bellingham has always had a working waterfront. Most of those industries are now gone, but even as the city prepares to transform 220 waterfront acres, it has repeatedly emphasized the need to maintain a working waterfront and increase public access to the water.

The plan is still preliminary, but the city has already invested $2 billion in waterfront cleanup to eventually renovate the area with commercial spaces, university classrooms, offices, shops, eateries, a park and even a new public library or aquarium.

However, a bulk-shipping terminal proposed at Cherry Point, north of Bellingham, could bring train traffic that many are concerned would interfere with the city’s vision for waterfront development.

Seattle-based SSA Marine, a company specializing in marine terminal operations, is proposing to build a shipping terminal north of Bellingham that could hold as much as 54 million tons of bulk commodities including coal, wheat, potash (a mineral used in fertilizers), and calcined coke (a byproduct of oil refining), said SSA Marine consultant Craig Cole. SSA Marine has already signed a contract with coal giant Peabody Energy to ship 24 million metric tons of coal, equivalent to filling 370 football fields almost 15 feet deep. The terminal would have the capacity to ship double that.

If the terminal were built and operating at full capacity, the coal and other bulk commodities would be brought to the terminal via an estimated 18 additional trains that would pass through Bellingham and Whatcom County, Cole said.

Will proposed bulk, coal terminal face narrow or broad environmental review?

By Carolyn Nielsen and Andrew Donaldson

Western Washington University

BELLINGHAM – The proposed coal and bulk shipping terminal at Cherry Point faces a key decision –– expected Friday, June 24 –– as the Whatcom County Planning and Development Department decides whether to require the terminal’s proponents to obtain a new permit to build a pier northwest of Bellingham.

Pacific International Terminals,  a joint venture of Seattle-based SSA Marine and Vancouver, B.C.-based Westshore Terminals, Ltd., submitted its application June 10 for a 350-acre shipping terminal on land and a pier that extends into a newly designated  aquatic reserve.

The company asserts that it already has permission to build the pier because the county issued a permit for one in 1997.

Local and regional environmental advocacy groups are urging the Whatcom County Planning and Development Department to reject the application because the permit was approved under outdated environmental regulations.

A June 17 letter to the county planning department from the non-profit law firm Earthjustice on behalf of Climate Solutions, the Sierra Club and Bellingham-based RE Sources for Sustainable Communities accused proponents of trying to subvert updated environmental standards in constructing the first phase of the project, the pier.

Email petitions from RE Sources and Communitywise Bellingham circulated widely on Thursday, calling on Whatcom County residents to contact the planning department and speak out against accepting the application.

Robert McClure's picture

Should Washington become the king of shipping coal to China?

Have you ever had to wait for a train at, say, Broad Street in Seattle, right by the SAM Sculpture Park? Or anyplace else along the Burlington Northern Santa Fe tracks that hug the coast of Puget Sound?

Imagine roughly doubling the train traffic on that railroad. Imagine further that each of these new trains is a mile and a half long. That’s a lot of waiting at railroad crossings.

But critics of the Gateway Pacific Terminal – the proposed coal-exporting port near Bellingham that would service those very long trains full of coal  – say that’s only the first of many impacts on communities and the environment because of the terminal’s overall purpose: sending up to 48 million tons of coal to China every year.

Topping the list of environmental impacts is climate change. The Chinese would burn a *lot* of coal, the most climate-unfriendly of the major energy sources. Plus there are the greenhouse gases emitted bringing the coal here from the Power River Basin in Montana and Wyoming.  And – oh, yeah –air pollution created in China can find its way to our shores in just a week and a half.

On the other hand, you may have noticed that financially, many of our neighbors are hurting. The proposed coal-exporting terminal west of Ferndale would mean hundreds of jobs – those “family-wage” jobs that are increasingly hard to find in Western Washington.  The naturally deep port at Cherry Point would not need to be dredged, proponents of the terminal point out. And the Powder River coal is low-sulfur, meaning it creates less lung-attacking pollution when burned than the higher-sulfur coal the Chinese might obtain from elsewhere.

Rita Hibbard's picture

Students join "National Day of Action" to protest tuition hikes

Students in Seattle, Bellingham, Olympia, Portland, Berkeley and in college towns across the nation Thursday raised voices and waved protest signs against rising tuition and fees that threaten access to higher education.

It was called a "National Day of Action." It was bigger on some campuses, where hundreds turned out, and smaller on others, like Bellingham, where only about 20 students turned out. Nationally, tens of thousands of students protested.


In photo at left, seniors Lauren Yee (left) and Tessa Marcovitch march with other protesters across the Western Washington University campus. In lower photo, junior John Morgan protests budget cuts to financial aid. Photos by Lillian Furlong for InvestigateWest.


At Portland State University, about 200 students came out to protest. At the University of Washington, where students paid a 14 percent tuition increase last year and face another 14 percent hike this year, hundreds turned out.

In Bellingham, Western Washington University student Tessa Marcovitch is graduating in June, but said she joined the protest because she "wants the next generation to have a chance to get an education."

John Morgan, 20, joined the Bellingham protest to add his voice to those in opposition to budget cuts to financial aid. Students at all public colleges and universities in Washington face potentially stiff tuition increases next year, with looming and as yet unfilled budget deficits.

InvestigateWest interns working hard, kicking butt

InvestigateWest keeps me every bit as busy as I ever was when I worked
in newspapers – even during those soul-draining stretches when I
labored six or seven days a week on major newspaper projects.

Among the many duties that fall to me here at InvestigateWest, there
is one that stands out as the the most fun: working with the
incredible interns we’ve from Western Washington University in
Bellingham, which has one of the best environmental journalism
programs in the nation.

Meet these whip-smart, hardworking young journalists:

[caption id="attachment_4250" align="alignright" width="86" caption="Emily Linroth"]Emily Linroth[/caption]

* Emily Linroth  is entering her senior year at Western. She previously
served as editor of Western’s award-winning environmental journalism
magazine, The Planet. This summer, in addition to her duties as an
InvestigateWest intern, she simultaneously served as editor of Whatcom
, a Bellingham-area monthly focusing on local politics,
environmental news, and community events. Today is Emily’s last day
with InvestigateWest as a summer intern. But in the fall she will be
continuing to work on our Pacific Flyway story as an independent
study. Meanwhile, she’ll be taking classes and continuing to edit
Whatcom Watch. (I have a Warren Zevon quote on the wall of my office:
“I’ll sleep when I’m dead.” I guess it probably applies to Emily,

Emily has done a fantastic job.