Friday, August 10, 2012

The Carbon Trade in the Fourth Corner (Part I)

Cherry Point and Lake Whatcom Basin 1 from NASA WorldWind
"Nearly three weeks after the group’s initiative to prohibit the use of gas-powered craft from operating on Lake Whatcom Reservoir, city and county attorneys ordered a recount using a different law than the one usually usedlocally for the validation of signatures.
The new criteria was taken from a state law brought forth by initiativeopponents who call themselves “Lake Whatcom Stewardship Association” (LWSA).”That law would limit the length of time allowed for gathering signatures to sixmonths and would require disregarding more than 400 signatures.
At their Sept. 13 meeting, City Attorney Joan Hoisington told City Councilmembers that they could not try to salvage the initiative for the Novemberballot.. “There is no initiative,” she said.
“This isn’t about boats any more, it’s about democracy,” Crozier said. “The powerful mustn’t be allowed to ignore due process and violate civil rights ofcitizens who are trying to make a difference.”" (quoted from )
 It may be the case that Judge Snyder's rejection of anti coal initiative represents sound legal practice. But if water quality activist Sharon Crozier were still with us, she might beg to differ.  Sharon, a fiery grandmother and cancer survivor (a phrase she didn't like), had a golden heart. She was the type of activist Noam Chomsky's prototypical 'elite' would hate the most: a committed idealist with a passion for truth and reform. And thus the legal and political system of Whatcom County tormented her. She shrugged off flailing criticism from liberal and moderates and political intimidation and from the right wing in Whatcom County.  All of this criticism simply because she wanted to remove motor boats from our drinking water source. Her worst opponents, the 'property rightista' class attacked her campaign savagely. At one point she received a death threat in a Hagen's parking lot while seeking signatures for the "Motor Boats Off" petition . I believe the exact words of her tormentor were: "If you f*ck with my property values b*tch, I'm going to take you out to that lake and drown you."  Sharon devoted herself to the cause despite all the hatred and intimidation that was sent her way. She had good reason to. Still today, Whatcom County's cancer incident rates are number three in a state with higher than the national average incidence rates to begin with:

Countysort sort alphabetically by nameascendingAnnual Incidence Rate
over rate period(95% Confidence Interval)
sort sort by rateascending
Average Annual Countsort sort by countdescendingRate Period
Washington 5476.8 (474.4, 479.1)31,5342005-2009
US (SEER+NPCR) 1465.0 (464.7, 465.4)
Mason County 7554.6 (530.3, 579.8)4132005-2009
Grays Harbor County 7540.0 (518.1, 562.6)4742005-2009
Whatcom County 7527.5 (513.2, 542.1)1,0642005-2009
Pierce County 7521.6 (514.1, 529.1)3,8162005-2009
Snohomish County 7517.6 (509.4, 525.9)3,1872005-2009
Skagit County 7509.8 (492.8, 527.1)7042005-2009
Thurston County 7506.7 (494.2, 519.4)1,2992005-2009
Jefferson County 7497.2 (467.7, 528.5)2512005-2009
Cowlitz County 6495.3 (476.7, 514.3)5552005-2009
Kitsap County 7489.8 (477.6, 502.2)1,2782005-2009

Yet somehow, Whatcom county residents can't put together the fact that dumping unburned hydrocarbons into their water supply is a toxic practice that may be killing them. Sharon and her environmental partner Tim Paxton, never got the chance to put their initiative on the ballot. I doubt Coal-Free Bellingham ever will either.

Personally, I find the arguments against a Coal-free Bellingham contrived. Sure, we need a strong interstate trade act. But you could extend that argument to justify everything from the shipping of toxic waste to continuance of the slave trade. A community like Bellingham should have some control over the burdens placed on it from the mountains of coal that will eventually be trafficked through their downtown and residences.  Currently, there is no legal framework to give a community such control.  In another era, would we have been justified in using the laws that govern interstate trade to allow the transport of slaves from free to slave states? Fifty globally warmed and polluted years from now, equating the carbon trade with the slave trade may not seem so outrageous.

The problem is that the law is subsumed by needs of power and money in a capitalist society. The needs of the people count second. Whatcom County has historically always been a "resource class" colony : Timber, Coal, Silver, Salmon, Raspberries, Dairy, Energy, Oil. Here in Whatcom County, we ship our resource products the world over.  Only recently have we established strong service sector economies in health, education, tourism, property. To understand how the carbon trade may come to dominate the fourth corner, consider our region's strategic energy assets:

(1) Four significant oil refineries in Skagit and Whatcom Counties including BP's Cherry Point facility
(2) 300K barrel a day pipeline from Alberta with a significant Kinder Morgan upgrade in process
(3) Sumas Energy HUB
(4) Potential coal port terminal at Cherry Point (48 to 56 million metric tons/year)
(5) Possible LNG terminal at Cherry Point
(6) Gas pipelines and electrical high voltage transport from B.C.,Rockies,Midwest
(7) An strategic 'gateway' for the protection assets designed for the continuance of the carbon trade:  the nuclear submarines, destroyers and carriers at Bangor/Kitsap, Bremerton, Everett; the air support and NORAD assets at Whidbey and McChord

Whatcom County is the most populous of the Fourth Corner counties. Despite this, Whatcom county (Current 2011 population estimate - 203K) has really had only one stable historical demographic: native Americans. (In this case composed of the Lummi and Nooksack tribes generally). Almost anyone else who has called this place home for the last 150 years or so either (a) hasn't been here very long or (b) is on their way to some place else. The continuing stampede of retirees, ex-urbans, and speculators increased this phenomenon as does the ever growing population of university, college and trade school students. By my count, the student population now numbers over 30K in any given school month. According to the 2010 census, there are about 80K plus households in Whatcom County, but only 22.5K of those households have individuals under 18 in habitue. Approximately, 14.7K of the 80K  households (18.4%) have a husband/wife family with children under 18.

Where there are strong families, activists find the support necessary to push back the greed of capitalism in favor of conditions where families can endure into the future. Whether  the carbon trade based economy  can bring such conditions to Whatcom County is the question of the hour.

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