Big Coal faces big opposition in Pacific Northwest

Published on Waging NonViolence, by Nick Engelfried, May 24, 2013.

Earlier this month, grassroots climate and anti-extraction activists in the Pacific Northwest scored a victory over one of the world’s most powerful industries. Kinder Morgan, an energy company that operates 26,000 miles of pipelines and owns 170 largely energy-related export terminals, announced it is scrapping plans to build a large coal export terminal on the Columbia River. The company has downplayed the role of community opposition to its terminal, claiming logistical considerations led to abandonment of the project. But local activists see more to the story than that.  

Kinder Morgan’s decision to walk away from the Columbia came after months of steady grassroots opposition, and the company made the announcement two days after locals turned out in large numbers at a hearing to oppose the project. For environmental groups in the region, this looks like the culmination of a well-coordinated effort to protect communities along the Columbia from coal pollution … //

… All three projects have drawn heavy opposition. Last fall, hundreds of Oregonians turned out to hearings on the Port of Morrow project, convened by the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality. Thousands attended hearings in Washington about the Pacific Gateway project, held by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Since the Army Corps is a federal body, tens of thousands of people from around the country — though mainly in the Northwest — submitted comments opposing Gateway Pacific. Ranchers whose lands would be impacted by coal mining came from as far away as eastern Montana to speak out against the project at an Army Corps hearing in Spokane, Wash.

“At the hearings about coal exports in the Portland area, sometimes as many as 800 people showed up to express opposition,” said Rodger Winn, a volunteer activist with the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign. “The Oregon DEQ had to change venues because so many people showed up to testify.”

Of course, the fight against Northwest coal exports isn’t over yet — and it won’t be, until all three remaining projects are defeated. For now the abandonment of Kinder Morgan’s terminal has allowed local activists to focus on the remaining coal projects in the region, while some groups simultaneously expand their focus to other fossil fuel export infrastructure.

“For folks along the Columbia River,” said Rising Tide’s Zimmer-Stucky, “having Kinder Morgan walk away allows us to put all our energy into fighting Australia-owned Ambre Energy, which is behind both of the remaining projects on the Columbia.”

In addition to the Longview, Bellingham and Morrow coal projects, energy companies are looking to export oil and liquefied natural gas through West Coast ports. There are currently five proposed or existing oil export terminals in the Pacific Northwest. Rising Tide is looking to harness some of the momentum from Kinder Morgan’s defeat to build a broader movement against fossil fuel exports of any kind, expanding its scope to include oil infrastructure as well.

The defeat of Kinder Morgan may also serve as an inspiration for climate activists fighting fossil fuel projects elsewhere in the United States, such as mountaintop removal, fracking and tar sands pipelines. “That Kinder Morgan scrapped plans for the St. Helens terminal is a testament to the power of communities to stand up and make a difference,” said Stephan Michaels, a freelance writer and journalist who has written about coal exports for the Seattle Times. “This latest coal port being dumped might continue a much larger domino effect.”

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US/Mexico: Organizing on both sides of the border, on Waging NonViolence, by marta Molina, May 22, 2013; with Photo: A cargo train heads north toward the United States, with an estimated 1,500 Central American migrants traveling atop. The next stop is Ixtepec, Oaxaca. (WNV/Moysés Zúñiga Santiago).

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