Thin Green Line
Wednesday, June 26, 2019
THIN GREEN LINE: Whatcom County Council continues to slowly shape land-use policies for the Cherry Point industrial area—but with a changing council roster and Canada’s approval of the Trans Mountain Pipeline expansion, their work can’t be completed fast enough. Council last week considered a resolution to pass along to the Planning Commission the recommendations of their legal consultant, Cascadia Law Group, to help limit the negative impacts on public safety, transportation, the economy and environment from crude oil, coal, liquefied petroleum gases and natural gas transshipments from the Cherry Point refineries.
If approved, the Cherry Point amendments would prohibit additional new fossil fuel refineries beyond the existing British Petroleum, Phillips 66, and Petrogras facilities, and would limit new crude oil transshipment facilities or projects that have any other purpose other than supplying raw materials to the existing refineries.
The tools local governments can use to limit fossil fuel expansion projects are few and limited, and the Cherry Point amendments aim to put what limited few there are into the toolbox of future planning and development provisions that govern these projects.
Last week, Canada’s federal government approved the Trans Mountain Pipeline expansion. If completed, the project would result in a surge of new oil tanker traffic through Pacific Northwest waters. Twinning the existing pipeline from Edmonton to Burnaby would triple capacity to 890,000 barrels a day. Tanker traffic from the Westridge Marine Terminal in British Columbia would increase from about five to 34 tankers per month. Additionally, an aging spur of Trans Mountain branches south at Abbotsford, carrying Alberta tar sands crude to the four large refineries in Whatcom and Skagit counties along the Puget Sound Pipeline.
Incongruously, Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced his cabinet’s approval of the expansion just one day after he’d declared a national climate emergency, citing the burning of fossil fuels as a primary cause.
Indigenous tribes throughout the region, including Lummi Nation, expressed their continued opposition to the Trans Mountain expansion.
“Lummi Nation remains unequivocally opposed to the expansion of the Trans Mountain Pipeline, and will continue to stand with First Nations in protecting the Salish Sea,” tribal leaders said in a press release. “Our will is strong, and we will stand with other Coast Salish Nations to protect our homeland.”
Lummi’s newly launched Salish Sea Campaign calls for a moratorium on all industrial stressors to the Salish Sea, including the Trans Mountain pipeline. Lummi is also a signatory, along with 149 other First and Tribal Nations, to the Alliance Against Tar Sands Expansion Treaty. The alliance includes numerous tribal communities in British Columbia and Swinomish, Tulalip, and Suquamish tribes in Washington.
As an official participant in the NEB hearings last November, Lummi testified that the sevenfold increase in tanker traffic resulting from the pipeline would have devastating impacts on the Southern Resident orca population, as well as on salmon runs and sacred sites protected by treaty.
Governor Jay Inslee, who has launched his presidential campaign focused on climate change, also expressed his displeasure with Trans Mountain.
“The Canadian government’s decision today to approve the Trans Mountain Pipeline expansion is alarming and deeply disappointing,” Inslee said in a statement. “This pipeline, if built, will impose significant negative impacts on our coastal communities, increase the risk of oil spills in our shared waters and double down on carbon-intensive fossil fuels at a time when world leaders need to double down on clean energy. It would unwind our urgent efforts to reduce toxics in our environment, protect our orcas and improve oil-transport safety. If the pipeline is expanded, we may see a call for additional investments to bring more fossil fuels into Washington state.”
The Canadian government has expressed confidence that work on the Trans Mountain expansion could begin as early as this summer, but considerable uncertainty exists in the markets and economics of tar sands exports.
“While on its face this feels like a setback, the reality is Canada’s approval of the Trans Mountain pipeline is almost irrelevant,” said Matt Krogh, Extreme Oil Campaign Director at Stand.earth. “The Asian markets are mythical at best, Washington state has all the tar sands it can handle, and robust opposition from frontline communities in California is preventing their refineries from expanding to take more tar sands. The West Coast has stopped new pipelines and oil tankers before, and we’ll do it again.”
British Columbia and the West Coast states have all enacted legislation that would limit or prohibit unrefined crude exports. Whatcom County Council’s work is of the same package.
Council members last week expressed concern with the glacial pace of Planning and Development Services (PDS) staff review of the Cascadia Law Group proposals, and the limited calendar of the Planning Commission to open a public review of the amendments—an amendment process introduced more than three years ago.
“Even on this timeline, even if all the stars align, then our first opportunity to vote on this for adoption is going to be in late October,” Council chair Rud Browne estimated. “And that gives us just three more meetings as a buffer” before the end of their legislative year.
“We need to bring this to closure for the community,” Browne said.
Whatcom County’s thin green line needs all the fortification it can muster in response to expansions that bring more crude oil, tar sands bitumen, fracked gas, propane or coal through our towns, farmland, and waterways.