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Past Issues

Whatcom Watch Online
Message from the Whatcom Watch President

September 2015

Cover Story

Message from the Whatcom Watch President

by Terry Wechsler

Terry Wechsler is a board member and the president of Whatcom Watch. A Washington attorney specializing in environmental law, she is a co-founder of Protect Whatcom and writes frequently about the proposed coal terminal and fossil fuel transportation issues.

Our October/November issue will be the last for which Bob Schober will serve as managing editor (ME). Effective with the December issue, Jennifer Karchmer returns to the editorial helm at the Watch.

Citing time demands, Bob resigned the ME position, but has agreed to continue on the board1 and hopes to contribute as a writer and editorial advisor.

Bob joined the Watch community at a time of upheaval and brought to the table an old school journalistic sensibility with an emphasis on accuracy and fairness in presentation of the facts. There was some tension, because journalism should be “unbiased,” yet the Watch has a definite point of view: it is a progressive newspaper focused on local environmental and political issues. The paper is not a 501(c)(3) – which means it is not a “charity” and it pays its taxes – because it must be free to discuss the role of politics and elections in public planning decisions such as the pending county permits for the proposed Gateway Pacific Terminal.

There is a difference, however, between having a point of view and being “biased.” I personally got involved in citizen journalism as part of my local activism in opposition to the proposed coal terminal. I wanted to share what I was learning with others and build a record of my knowledge for others to use. My motto from the beginning was, “Stick to the facts because they are almost always bad enough.” I’ve recently modified that because with fossil fuels, I learned the facts are always worse than one could even imagine, so now I say, “Stick to the facts because they are bad enough.”

Having Bob on our board will only help us stay honest. And Jennifer, with her background in teaching journalism, will bring even more rigor. As described below in my update on the status of the proposed coal terminal, as a community we are in the fight of our collective lives against enormous forces in the fossil fuel and transportation industries, and the truth will continue to be one of our strongest weapons.

The irony is that the fossil fuel threats have had a similar effect on various constituencies throughout our community as our respective resolves about that which we value has only galvanized. The assault has even delivered a gift: the voice of the Lummi Nation has become ferocious in the past two months, in defense of its sovereign tribal treaty rights. Those rights may be the strongest legal weapon in the arsenal to protect our shared environment, as attested to by the enormous efforts to attack them in our nation’s capital by pro-coal politicians.

The Watch will continue to focus on all issues of significance to the community, but we need more writers to do that adequately. Our writers are volunteers, and each of us focuses on specific issues. There are many other issues we could and should be covering, so we always encourage others to join the team!

To submit an article, or discuss a subject you would like to write about, please drop us a line at Please be persistent. We are all un- or underpaid. And thank you all for your continuing support.

Cherry Point Update

The July issue2 included a description of the efforts of U.S. Sen. Steve Daines (R) from Montana to force the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (the Corps) to abrogate federal precedent for review of a tribal request under the Treaty of Point Elliott. He introduced amendments to federal legislation which would require the Corps to complete a final EIS (Environmental Impact Statement) under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) before determining whether to grant the tribe’s request to deny federal permits for the proposed Gateway Pacific Terminal (GPT). The tribe’s request, as described in the February issue,3 triggered a legal analysis akin to a contract analysis – very different from a NEPA analysis for an EIS and permit determination.

Since July, much has happened. The president announced a Clean Power Plan4 on August 3 that would put further downward pressure on domestic coal consumption. That puts even more pressure on mining companies to export to Asia. It was therefore only somewhat surprising when SSA Marine announced5 on August 13 it had given Cloud Peak Energy a 49 percent stake in GPT, 5 percent of which Cloud Peak could transfer to the Crow Nation.

To support Cloud Peak and other mining interests, Sen. Daines ratcheted up the activity in the nation’s capital, circulating a petition6 ultimately signed by 16 Senate Republicans and submitted to the Corps on July 28, urging them to delay their response to the Lummi treaty-related request.

Lummi Business Council Chairman Tim Ballew wrote to Daines on August 3,7 informing the senator his petition “reflects a fundamental misunderstanding of the significance of the Indian Treaty Rights at stake,” and promising litigation if the Corps did not follow procedure based on precedent:

“I can assure you, that if the Lummi Nation’s Treaty Fishing Rights are jeopardized by any efforts to allow the project to proceed, we will fight vigorously by all means necessary. In times past, our Nation and its leaders did not have the resources and were unable to stop prior efforts to construct commercial terminals in our region. That day is no more.”

Prior to the August 3 letter to Daines, the Lummi Nation announced a position about any heavy impact industrial (HII) activity in the Cherry Point urban growth area (UGA). In their July 21 comment8 to Whatcom County Planning and Development Services, Kirk Vinish, Interim Planning & Public Works Director for the Lummi Nation Planning Department, requested government-to-government dialogue to discuss the UGA boundary.

Vinish stated that while heavy impact industrial uses at the aquatic reserve “might have been adequate thirty years ago,” it is “inappropriate” today:

“While Cherry Point might be important, it is not essential for the economy to promote high-impact, heavy industry with a large carbon footprint in the Cherry Point UGA.”

The “not essential” statement probably refers to the fact that only 9.1 percent of Whatcom County’s industrial jobs lie at Cherry Point according to the Preliminary UGA Growth Allocation Proposal.9 Vinish does not call for elimination of those jobs in the Cherry Point UGA but, rather, consideration of where the county could place HII jobs with less impact on water and cultural resources.

For their part, Montana coal interests increased pressure on the public and elected officials at the local, state and federal levels to support the terminal, including a press junket to Cherry Point,10 and lobbying efforts in the nation’s capital.11 Meanwhile, Northwest Jobs Alliance, the front group for GPT, issued an August 11 “News Alert” directing email followers to sign online petitions12 to Washington’s Democratic elected officials to urge the Corps to wait for a final EIS before responding to the Lummi request.

As coal interests increase pressure on the public and politicos, as though either may “vote” on the proper response from the Corps to a request supported by 160 years of federal jurisprudence, a group of Lummi carvers resolutely launched another Totem Journey on August 21, originating in British Columbia and terminating in Montana.13

Jewell James of the House of Tears Carvers will present the totem pole to the Northern Cheyenne Nation at Otter Creek. The Montana tribe opposes proposed construction of a new coal mine and railroad in that state, and will embark on their own three-week journey with the totem pole. They intend to meet with indigenous groups throughout the Powder River Basin to share their concerns.


1. Other board members are myself and Bill McCallum. The officers are myself, president; Bob, vice president; Bill McCallum, treasurer; and Mark Holzband, secretary.

2. Terry Wechsler, “Support for GPT Devolves Into a Zombie Apocalypse,” Whatcom Watch, July 2015, located online at

3. Terry Wechsler, “Legal Precedent Undergirds Lummi Letter to the Corps,” Whatcom Watch, February 2015, located online at


5. “SSA Marine Welcomes the Crow Tribe and Cloud Peak Energy as Partners in the Gateway Pacific Terminal,” Aug. 13, 2015, located online at

6. Located online at The letter will be included with this article online at

7. “Lummi Opposes Congressional Efforts to Influence Gateway Pacific Terminal Project,” Eastside Business, Aug. 3, 2015, located online at

8. This letter will be available online accompanying the electronic version of this article at

9. Urban Growth Area Review: Cherry Point UGA Preliminary Growth Allocation Proposal,” Dec. 2, 2013, p.6, located online April 7, 2014, at Note that in its comment of that date,

10. See Ralph Schwartz, “Montana officials praise Cherry Point coal port plan,” The Bellingham Herald, Aug. 19, 2015, located online at

11. William Yardley, “In dispute over coal mine project, two ways of life hand in the balance,” The Los Angeles Times, July 21, 2015, located online at


13. To follow the journey, tune in to KVWV Community Radio. For information: To follow them on Facebook, see,

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