This guest post was contributed by Eric Jensen, a student activist at Western Washington University
Wednesday night, outside of a heated local candidates debate about a proposed massive coal export terminal just ten miles from Western Washington University, a group of students with the Western Action Coalition decided to have a little fun while calling attention to the issue.
The coal terminal, proposed by SSA Marine and it’s minority owner Goldman Sachs, would ship coal from open pit mines in Wyoming through Bellingham, Washington and out of a port at Cherry Point, eventually reaching East Asian markets. The terminal poses a significant threat to communities near WWU: coal dust and coal runoff from open freight cars are a concern to anyone near the tracks; thriving forest would be stripped from the land at Cherry Point; and 80 acres of uncovered coal could degrade the spawning grounds of an endemic herring population, which forms the bottom of the marine food chain. The impacts are as diverse as the communities that would be affected by them.
An action organized by the Western Action Coalition with Earth First! Whatcom focused attention on some of the impacts, while calling the WWU student community to take action with their ballots this week. Olivia Edwards, a junior studying environmental science dressed as a Salmon. Unconvinced by SSA’s arguments, she said “there are still a multitude of questions that need to be answered and that deserve to be addressed.”
Demonstrators distributed literature endorsing county council and mayoral candidates that will stick up for a sustainable economy for Bellingham and beyond. They called for electing Pete Kremen, Christina Maginnis, and Alan Black for Whatcom County Council and Dan Pike for Bellingham Mayor – all of whom have been endorsed by Washington Conservation Voters.
Meanwhile a coal train made from shopping carts, a revitalized appliance art racer, and a washing machine-turned locomotive rumbled through Red Square, the heart of the WWU campus, and into the narrow corridor at the entrance to the event. As the train conductor blared his whistle, crossing guard Bodie Cabiyo preventing foot traffic from entering the event, “Sorry, expect ten minute delays every hour of every day from here on out,” he said. Increased train traffic resulting from the terminal would have such an effect in Bellingham, isolating communities on opposite sides of the tracks for as much as four hours a day.
Environmental science student Bodie Cabiyo said, “These big issues like dirty energy and climate change can seem pretty distant and relatively unimportant until they threaten to destroy communities and ecosystems right in your back yard. Then you realize just how real the issue actually is.” This week we, WWU students, will cast our ballots for a local economy that will support us into the future, and that will stop global coal trade in it’s tracks.”