Whatcom County: the light at the end of the coal mine shaft?

Barry Buchanan on the election trail, seeking a seat on Whatcom County Council
Barry Buchanan on the election trail, seeking a seat on Whatcom County Council
Credits: KGMI-AM  790

With the future of fossil fuels as America’s primary energy source hanging in the balance, upcoming off-year elections in the far corner of the Pacific Northwest may tip the scales one way or the other.

Whatcom County, Washington, will be deciding who’ll sit on their County Council and Port Commission. Those officials will in turn decide whether to support or oppose a project to ship thousands of tons of coal via rail to a proposed Whatcom County port for export to China.

If approved, the project would send coal –laden trains rumbling through quiet communities, disrupting traffic and lifestyles, providing a few long-term family-wage jobs. The subsequent unregulated coal-burning plants of China will return the favor by wafting their pollution back to the Pacific Northwest on prevailing winds.

Assuming that China will continue its thirst for foreign fossil fuels, which is by no means certain.

One candidate openly expressing his concerns about the coal port project is Barry Buchanan, seeking a seat on Whatcom County Council in the upcoming November election.

Buchanan was prodded into politics by his friend (and former mayor of Bellingham, Whatcom County’s central city) Mark Asmundson. Barry quickly took the bit, becoming Chairman of the Whatcom County Democratic Party and eventually serving four years on the Bellingham City Council.

Why does the “Gateway Pacific Terminal” worry him? Buchanan cites three main reasons:

  • Global: the impact of burning fossil fuels like coal on climate change is dramatically problematic.
  • Local: how will the introduction of several exceedingly long and potentially dusty coal trains per day affect the flow of traffic and timely emergency services over city and county roads?
  • Financial: those roads will require upgrades if rail traffic is to increase. How will Whatcom County pay for that? And what if the need for coal exports does indeed dwindle?

Buchanan suggests a couple of simple alternatives to this dicey coal conundrum. Namely:

  • Promote existing small business enterprises in Whatcom County. Encourage the expansion of local mom-and-pop operations. “Do not hamper their success,” he urged in a recent interview.
  • Build new business by working with Whatcom County’s very own educational institutions like Western Washington University and Bellingham Technical College. Currently, many of the county’s innovative graduates are forced to seek employment elsewhere. Why not work with the local business community to “generate good green jobs here,” argues Buchanan.

Disruptive coal trains and a coal port with an uncertain future. Or good green local jobs.

That’s the choice Whatcom County is faced with this November. And the whole world is watching.

Originally published at Examiner.com

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