The Political Junkie interviews “Power Past Coal”

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Mon, Aug 20, 2012, 9:00 am  //  Riley Sweeney

Matt Petryni at his desk

Riley's Note: As usual, you can find more pictures, interviews, analysis and commentary over at my home site The Political Junkie

With initiatives, campaigns and millions in advertising dollars, I figured I would take a break from the insanity of electoral politics and write about something non-controversial, like exporting coal out of Whatcom County. To that end, I sought out "Power Past Coal", a regional effort to motivate people to oppose exporting coal.

I sat down with Matt Petryni, campaign manager with Power Past Coal in Whatcom County, to get the inside scoop on the effort to stop the Gateway Pacific Terminal at Cherry Point. Petryni, a Sehome High School graduate, grew up in Bellingham. "This is a community I care about a lot. It's a community that I have watched evolved since then. It has become much more environmentally aware as my generation becomes more politically involved." He smiles and hastily adds that there are many environmentally active baby boomers, too. "I got involved because of my mom. She was concerned about the coal port, and brought me into the picture."

So what is Power Past Coal? "Power Past Coal is a regional coalition that RE Sources helped start to stop coal in all the regional communities that are going to be affected. We are the northwest region, but there are groups in Longview and other communities." How did this group start?  "When the proposal came to Cherry Point, the various environmental groups started talking to each other and formed a united front, an attempt to coordinate the events to stop the coal export in the Pacific Northwest. Hence: Power past coal."

So what do you folks do? "My focus is to motivate volunteers to organize the community against coal export. What that usually entails is the usual political tactics of knocking on doors, making phone calls, identifying supporters and those who haven't made up their mind, and motivating them to speak out to their elected officials."
Which elected officials? "County council mainly, they are the people who get to decide on the scope of what is studied in the application, and decide to approve the application." There has been some legal dispute (see fellow blogger, and County Council expert Shane Roth's take on it here) about whether the county council can even talk about the issue before the environmental impact statement is presented to them.

Petryni is skeptical of the council's legal position. "The legal advice that they are getting is that they can't talk about it and take a position until the process has gone through. I think it is excessively conservative on their part. For a while, they couldn't even hear anything about it. But at some point, they are going to open the scoping process to hear public comment. When they open the process, then they will then be able to hear about it. When they start hearing comments in earnest, we will activate the people we have identified on this. It is the get-out-the-vote effort, even though no one is actually voting on the issue." He also noted that co-lead agencies (translation: other goverment groups involved) such as the Department of Ecology and the Army Corps of Engineers are taking a big role in the permitting process, and they ARE taking comments.

So when will the county council be accepting comments on this project? "Latest rumor is mid-September, but there are people out there saying November. It is a four month public comment period which is completely unprecedented. Usually the comment period is thirty days, then maybe sixty days. RE Sources thought the legal max was ninety days. The county council came back with 120 days, including Sam Crawford, so we said, 'You, sir, drive a hard bargain, but I think we will take it.'”

Speaking of voting, there is another local group working on this issue, Coal-Free Bellingham. They are trying to place an initiative on the November ballot that would reclaim the people's right to regulate commerce through the city, so they can block the coal trains. I covered their first public meeting here. They are not associated with Power Past Coal, so I asked Petryni for his opinion on them.

"I really support the effort of Coal Free Bellingham in a lot of ways. It is impressive that they collected 10,000 signatures in three months, and I think that it demonstrates the sheer magnatude of opposition against the coal terminal in Bellingham." But then he sighs. "However, the city council and Judge Snyder have determined that the way their initiative is written directly conflicts with the state and federal constitution, creating a legal hurdle. I realize that our system of laws does not have the protection we need of natural resources; natural resources are not considered legal persons. They are trying to assert that. But, again, we are not involved in that. We are a 501c non-profit; we have to be very careful about how we address any sort of political involvement. We are an advocacy group, obviously, but we are trying to avoid any involvement with ballot issues and candidates."

He also expressed some mild irritation about how this came about. "This is a two step process. First we need to make sure that people are opposed to the terminal and those people who are opposed to it are identified and motivated. Once we have accomplished that, THEN we can move forward with ballot measures and political efforts, but we need to do things in the right order." He takes a moment and collects his thoughts. "It is an interesting idea, whether or not it is going to work is debatable. I like the idea that they are challenging the legal ruling. If you want to change our fundamental system of laws, just blocking the coal terminal seems reasonable by comparison, it has the effect of moving the debate in a more positive direction."

So back to Power Past Coal, what is your number one reason for opposing the Cherry Point Terminal? "For me it is climate change. I see climate change as the defining issue of my generation and it affects so many people in so many ways, as we are seeing this summer. Stopping this coal terminal keeps 5.7 gigatons of CO2 out of our atmosphere. We expect our environment to be able to change 2 degrees Celsius without catastrophic consequences and we have already created 0.8 degrees of change. Adding more CO2 will only make it worse."

But what about the economic benefits to our community? "We have other options for our economic development. You don't look to coal country for economic development, it isn't a strong economic engine. Timber is a renewable resource, software is a renewable resource; if we support and maintain those industries they will last for hundreds of year. Coal will only last for one generation. We want to be able to pass down to our children a cleaner, healthier and safer world, and this is not the way to do that."

What about your volunteers, what motivates them? "A lot of our volunteers are motivated by climate change. They want the opportunity to change the world. This is part of a movement to redefine civilization itself. For other people, this will kill their property values, it means 18 trains a day of new traffic, it will be devastating on our fisheries." He cracks a big smile, "My experience has been there is no shortage of reasons to hate this project."

Petryni works full-time for RE Sources, the environmental non-profit that has operated in Bellingham since 1982. "This is pretty much all I do with my life these days, but  . . . I'm doing God's work, so it is worth it."

How can someone help if they want to volunteer? Petryni urges potential volunteers to come to their office at 215 Holly St. in Bellingham, or contact them through their website. "Usually volunteers come here and call their friends and neighbors and ask them how they feel about coal export. Two hours a week is not big commitment. We send people out knocking on doors, we do tabling at various events. We do a lot of things like that. Our priority is making sure that our community knows the impacts, and give people the opportunities to organize other people. Its just the good, old fashioned, community organizing."

And with that, Petryni is off, packing up his Farmer's Market bucket with one of his interns, to go out and persuade the people. If you want more information about Power Past Coal, you can check out their website here. I hope to have an interview with one of the groups on the other side of this issue in the next couple of weeks.

An Imminent Threat:  The State Plans for CBR Disaster While Counties Punt

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While the state spends hundreds of thousands of dollars defining risks of crude by rail, Skagit County finds no significant adverse impacts of a crude-by-rail proposal.

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Patrick McKee of the Sunnyland Neighborhood guest-writes about the August 11 City Council slap-dash zoning changes.

2 comments; last on Aug 23, 2014

Village Books

In historic Fairhaven. Take Exit 250 from I-5.

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Not content with causing massive inconvenience, BNSF is now literally dumping on county residents.

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Devil In the Details

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Reliable Prosperity

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Sandy Robson guest writes of the need for real prosperity at Cherry Point, not a destructive short term coal port that destroys the fishing grounds.

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Fleetwood versus Ericksen: What Happened in Round One?

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Some Context for the Primary Results

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The Rule of Law - Bellingham Style

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Bellingham City Council abruptly changes zoning codes to force Planning Department plan on Sunnyland residents.

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Final Updated Election Results

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Updated Wed evening. The Tuesday evening 8:20 pm Auditor report on the election is in.

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Trial by Fire:  A Rising Tide of Civil Disobedience

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What Landlords Need to Know about Rental Registration

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Sunnyland Deja Vu

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0 comments

Intrado Not to Intrude in Bellingham

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The city council "persuades" the city administration to withdraw a request for an intrusive police threat warning system

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Power to the Permit! (or Closely Hold This!)

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It is time we stop allowing corporations to externalize the costs associated with their risky business practices, and demand more from our regulators who hold the keys to…

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Manifest Clandestine-y

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A Question of Freedom

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Trial by Fire: Lessons Not Learned One Year after Lac-Megantic

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Sins of Omission

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In the Weekly, Tim Johnson left out three words in quoting Craig Cole - and his story misleads readers. Guest article by Sandy Robson.

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DOJ Grant Brings Confusion and Anger to City Council Meeting

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Widespread Slaughter Won’t Work

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Wherein the failings of a bad policy framework are revealed

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Fireworks Ban in Bellingham in Effect as of 18 June

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The possession and use of consumer fireworks are no longer permitted within the city limits.

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Herald and Weekly Withhold the News

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Dawn Sturwold Retiring End of Month

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Feint, Calumny, Solidarity

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Why was so little consideration given to the concept of developing the waterfront for eco-tourism?

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How Park Improvements Generate Heat

Mon, May 26, 2014, 7:51 pm  //  Wendy Harris

City park improvements have implications on the local and global scale.

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Montana & Wyoming to WA: Permit Coal Export Terminals… Or Else

Thu, May 22, 2014, 12:10 am  //  Guest writer

Wyoming is ready to try and legally force us to limit our environmental scoping for the Cherry Point coal terminal

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The Trojan Slaughterhouse and the Scrivener’s Errors

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Who Filed for Charter Review Commission?

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Bellingham’s 2013 Water Quality Report: The Facts But Not the Truth

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Stay the Frack Out of Our Forearc

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Part 1: Introduction to the Bellingham Basin’s Potential for Fracking, Earthquakes, and Earthquakes Due to Fracking

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Riley scoops Herald - again

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The Political Junkie for Whatcom County - that would be Riley Sweeney - has Overstreet not running for reelection in the 42nd.

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An Imminent Threat

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Why Washington must step in and assume lead agency status in Skagit County for the Shell crude by rail proposal.

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The Whatcom Republicans’ Huge PCO Advantage

Tue, May 06, 2014, 5:52 pm  //  Riley Sweeney

The value of a Precinct Committee Officer . . .

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‘Legislative Sausage” or “Slaughter this Ordinance”

Mon, May 05, 2014, 3:34 pm  //  Tip Johnson

Wherein the gyrations of the bid for widespread county slaughter are exposed.

2 comments; last on May 07, 2014

Move To Amend - Persons vs Corporations

Thu, May 01, 2014, 10:21 pm  //  Guest writer

Move to Amend is a national movement to amend the U.S. Constitution and define persons as people and speech as not money.

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SweenyPolitics:  Fleetwood files against Ericksen

Wed, Apr 30, 2014, 8:20 am  //  John Servais

Riley posted this morning that Seth Fleetwood has decided to challenge Doug Ericksen for state senate in the 42nd District.

1 comments; last on Apr 30, 2014

Planning or Development Commission?

Mon, Apr 28, 2014, 6:28 am  //  Dick Conoboy

Every Bellingham Planning Commission member has ties to development or development-related businesses.

4 comments; last on Apr 30, 2014

“Friends and Neighbors”?

Mon, Apr 21, 2014, 1:59 pm  //  Terry Wechsler

A closer look at Whatcom County's industrial "stewards of the environment."

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Action Alert for Tonight: Waterfront Wildlife and Habitat Threatened

Mon, Apr 21, 2014, 11:43 am  //  Wendy Harris

The public needs to support city council and request that a waterfront habitat assessment include terrestrial species and habitat connectivity.

0 comments

Water, Water Everywhere, but ...

Sat, Apr 19, 2014, 2:57 pm  //  Terry Wechsler

or How Not to Plan for Future Generations' Water Needs

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Charter Review and District Only Voting

Thu, Apr 17, 2014, 10:40 am  //  Riley Sweeney

A simple explanation of the Charter Review and analysis of District only voting

0 comments

Roosevelt Neighborhood Pleads for Left Turns

Wed, Apr 09, 2014, 9:07 am  //  Riley Sweeney

City pushes for Alabama Street improvements, residents speak out

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Assault

Sun, Apr 06, 2014, 4:29 pm  //  Guest writer

By Christopher Grannis: Wherein despite every effort and expense, citizens cannot make the City follow the law or work for neighborhoods

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Killer Industrial Jobs or Long-term Job Killers?

Sun, Apr 06, 2014, 12:52 pm  //  Terry Wechsler

Why commenting on the EIS for Comp Plan revisions for Cherry Point means demanding an EIS in the first place.

5 comments; last on Jun 25, 2014

Anatomy of a Development Part XII - Citizens Win Against University Ridge

Wed, Apr 02, 2014, 6:00 am  //  Dick Conoboy

Ambling University Development Group pulls out. University Ridge will not be built.

12 comments; last on Apr 06, 2014

Tell County To Expand Scope of EIS Review for Plants and Animals

Tue, Apr 01, 2014, 1:27 pm  //  Wendy Harris

Please help us protect county wildlife by ensuring that the scope of the EIS review is adequate. A sample scoping letter is included.

0 comments

Public May Comment On EIS Scoping For County Comp. Plan Until April 7th

Mon, Mar 31, 2014, 2:23 am  //  Wendy Harris

The public has a week to comment on the scope of issues reviewed under the EIS.

0 comments

My State of the Lake Report for 2014

Fri, Mar 28, 2014, 1:32 am  //  Wendy Harris

On March 26, 2014 the city and county provided their update and assessment on the status of Lake Whatcom. This is mine.

2 comments; last on Apr 01, 2014

County Considers Purchasing Toxic Property

Wed, Mar 19, 2014, 10:32 am  //  Riley Sweeney

Riley digs into the county's plan to buy the county morgue

3 comments; last on Mar 24, 2014

Propaganda Replaces Public Information:  An Analysis of the Lake Whatcom TDML Process

Mon, Mar 17, 2014, 12:52 am  //  Wendy Harris

The public is not provided with a proposed plan or adequate information prior to the annual "state of the lake" meeting

4 comments; last on Mar 18, 2014

Mobile Slaughter

Sat, Mar 15, 2014, 1:11 pm  //  Tip Johnson

Wherein there's a crackdown on growing plants, and plans to let slaughter run free

2 comments; last on Mar 16, 2014

 

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