Port Commissioners’ comments on Cherry Point amendment process and Climate Strike youths, at their 3/19/19 meeting / Letter to Port of Bellingham Commissioners

Click the graphic to access the full platform of the US Youths Climate Strikes

April 23, 2019 Dena Jensen

I sent off an email today to the Port of Bellingham Commissioners about statements they made at their March 19, 2019 Port Commission meeting about the Cherry Point amendment process of the Whatcom County Council and about the youths that participated in the Climate Strike in Bellingham on March 15, 2019.

I was discouraged and disappointed in the Commissioners’ rehashing of Whatcom-Business-Alliance-promoted, pro-Cherry-Point-Industry (at the expense of community members and the environment) talking points.

Even Port Commissioner Shepard, who I would expect better from, expressed that:

“…when we’re wanting to look at where we address the change [for fossil fuels], it’s more with the enduser, endusers’ utilization of that product, not the producer.

“I think the same goes for power production and other things. We want to be thoughtful about where we’re trying to put our regulations.” 

But the Port Commissioners at that 3/19/19 meeting went beyond their own positions supporting opportunities for Cherry Point Industries to increase fossil fuel production there, and suggesting that regulations will drive these businesses out, and our jobs and pollution overseas. My letter, included below, details an account of these other remarks by Port Commissioners Bell and Briscoe. Port Commissioner Shepard did little to dispute them. Additionally, below the post of my email to the Port Commissioners, is a transcription of most of their comments at that March 19, 2019 Port Commission meeting. Here is my email, sent to all three Port Commissioners, and copied to Port Executive Director Rob Fix, Port Director of Economic Development Don Goldberg, all members of the Whatcom County Council, and County Executive Jack Louws:

Dear Port of Bellingham Commissioners,

It was, in my opinion, objectionable that at the March 19, 2019 Port of Bellingham Commission meeting, Port Commissioners Bell and Briscoe made public accusations against the Whatcom County Council, seemingly on the say-so of members of the Whatcom Business Alliance and Common Threads Northwest at their event at the Bellingham Country Club on the same date. These accusations were in regard to the Whatcom County Council’s actions having to do with their amendments to the Land Use Chapter of the Whatcom County Comprehensive Plan in regard to the Cherry Point Urban Growth Area, and were made without speaking to each of the seven County Council Members to hear their perspective and any facts and history Council Members may have had to provide about this subject. 

Thanks to Eddy Ury’s comment at your April 9, 2019 meeting and the minutes of the March 19 Port Commission meeting posted on the Port’s website I was was made aware of comments you Port Commissioners had made at the end of that May 19 Port Commission meeting.

I do not know if Port Commissioners had even read, at the time of their March 19 meeting, the January 29, 2019 resolution, passed by a 6-0 vote of the Council, which was requesting the County Executive provide staff resources and funding to allow Cascadia Law Group to work with County staff to provide the Council with draft Comprehensive Plan and code language that addressed a list of issues that had been brought forward by and to members of the Council to address. 

Whatcom County Council Members have done nothing to take action to approve any proposed Cherry Point amendments and will not be doing so until: 1. legal and staff review has been performed on of a variety of proposed code; 2. there has been further review of proposed amendments by the Planning Commission; 3. there are future public hearings, along with many opportunities for stakeholders to provide public comment, both in front of the Planning Commission, and when the amendments return to the Whatcom County Council.

I am going to highlight this statement of Port Commissioner Briscoe’s when he expressed his opinions in that March 19 meeting since, to me, it sums up the general attacking theme of most of the comments made by Port Commissioners Bell and Briscoe: 

“There hasn’t been transparency or truth from some of the folks involved with the document that was put forward. 

“It amazes me that people will come before us and ask us to create jobs, create economic growth in this county and then those same people will go out and fire up a document that does exactly the opposite of what they’ve asked us to do as a Port Commission. I was pretty peeved when I left that building this morning, as well as I think Commissioner Bell was, at what we heard was going on. It’s destructive to Whatcom County’s economic health. It’s destructive to our way of life here in Whatcom County, and it amazes me that people can’t come to a table, be transparent, tell you what they really want to do, and see if we can work it out and find a happy medium.”

Contrary to what Port Commissioner Briscoe implied, there has already been and will continue to be people coming to the table, saying what they really want to do, and seeing if everything can be worked out to protect the safety and well-being of our community. 

And by the way, this goes for the youth in our community, as well. As some of those who are amongst our most important Cherry Point stakeholders, our younger generation should be at that table too! One of the things that was most objectionable to me that Port Commissioners Bell and Briscoe did at the March 19 Port Commission meeting, was that they chose to single out one item from the mission/demands of the U.S. Youth Climate Strikes platform (https://www.youthclimatestrikeus.org/platform), with which to convey how disturbed they were by Bellingham students March 15, 2019 action, when local youths took a day off of school to exercise first amendment rights and stand up for the protection of our planet and the living things on it.

Port Commissioner Bell focused only on the demand of those climate strikers to end the construction of any additional fossil fuel infrastructure, ignoring all the rest of their demands. Contrary to what was a lopsided portrayal, and criticism of their agenda, I maintain these students should be free from censure and ridicule over their concerns by our elected officials and should instead be recognized for their civic engagement and for being a valid source of input that goes into reaching the “happy medium” that Port Commissioner Briscoe mentioned. 

As you all know from past emails I have written to you, I am in favor of honoring public process. I believe, unless there is some piece of information that has not been brought forward to the public, that public process is being fully honored in this case.  I have been observing the County Council’s actions in regard to the Cherry Point amendments for a number of years now. 

There has been nothing hasty about this process. Cherry Point industries have been offering objections to how long the moratorium on the export of unrefined fossil fuels out of Cherry Point has had to remain in place. This years-long moratorium has been due to Council protecting the safety of the community while they carefully and publicly proceed with their review of code that will replace the moratorium. 

Council Member Donovan proposed his most recent version of the amendments in December of 2018. Council Members had a number of weeks to review those amendments before a request was made – two weeks after their January 15, 2019 meeting where they discussed Council Member Donovan’s new amendments – that the County Executive allow funding and staff resources so that staff could gain the benefit of legal experts to review – not approve – some of the material from that and other code language, even code language from other jurisdictions. 

Moreover, it was nearly 2 months after that on April 9, that the Council finally voted to actually request authorization for the County Executive to enter into a contract between Whatcom County and Cascadia Law Group, PLCC to develop specific text amendments to the Whatcom County Comprehensive Plan and Whatcom County Code (WCC) that implement and are consistent with the provisions of the resolution put before the Council at the end of January.

The last time Cherry Point amendments were sent to the Planning Commission in July of 2016, the Commission 1. considered amendments forwarded by the full Council; 2. considered a version of the amendments that had been brought before the Planning Commission by way of County Planning and Development and proposed by just Council Member Brenner alone: 3. suggested revisions to the amendments proposed by individuals and other organizations.  Then the Planning Commission’s recommendations came back before the Whatcom County Council to consider, and an approval was not made of the amendments until nearly a year later in May of 2017.  

Whatever your arguments are with the Council’s efforts to protect community members from health and safety issues caused by the negative impacts of fossil fuel projects, I call on you Port Commissioners to address those arguments in good faith with the full Council and not by way of casting aspersions on Council’s intent and actions, or casting aspersions on the motives or informed nature of the youth of our community when they alert our community to the dangers they see from continuing to increase the production and use of fossil fuels. 

Sincerely,

Dena Jensen

Birch Bay, WA


This following discussion by the Port Commissioners begins at about 2:54:45 on the video of their 3/19/19 meeting at this link: https://youtu.be/1-d0zoVFhIk?t=10482 :

Port Commissioner Bell: And the second thing is, I want to acknowledge Don’s participation this morning in a discussion on Cherry Point. It was a, It was a worthwhile discussion and at some point we got robbed of some time because we had a moderator that was a little too verbose. But I will say that we had a good meeting and it really did drive home that we need to be involved from an economic development standpoint in what happens at Cherry Point. 

And Mr. Fix, I’d like to, at some level, sit down and discuss with you, what the Port should be doing in response to the County Council and the activity there, the infrastructure there needs to be repaired and replaced. The jobs, they’re too important to this community, and if we allow that slippage to occur, we’ve lost a tremendous economic base. 

Understanding the intent of the, of the motions that the County’s going through, there’s, I think there’s a more gentle way to go about this process. And I really would hate to see this county be tainted because we were hostile to the biggest employer, or some of the biggest employers we have in the County. 

And I’m not sure what that looks like at this juncture but I would like to, before the next Port Commission meeting, come to the table with something that addresses what I feel to be an attack on our biggest industries.

Executive Director Fix: Commissioner we will, you, I, and Don should sit down and talk about what that looks like because I don’t really know what that looks like at this point either. But let’s get together, the three of us, and we can put our heads together and figure it out. 

Port Commissioner Briscoe: I was at the, well all three of us were at that meeting this morning and I was very glad I went – a bit of an eye-opener for me to what was going on. As we call it, it was back-door. There’s been some back-dooring going on in this deal with the County Council as far as this commissioner is concerned. There hasn’t been transparency or truth from some of the folks involved with the document that was put forward. 

It amazes me that people will come before us and ask us to create jobs, create economic growth in this county and then those same people will go out and fire up a document that does exactly the opposite of what they’ve asked us to do as a Port Commission. I was pretty peeved when I left that building this morning, as well as I think Commissioner Bell was, at what we heard was going on. It’s destructive to Whatcom County’s economic health. It’s destructive to our way of life here in Whatcom County, and it amazes me that people can’t come to a table, be transparent, tell you what they really want to do, and see if we can work it out and find a happy medium.

Anybody that thinks fossil fuels are going to go away overnight is out of their mind. It’s not going to go away overnight. It will go away someday. And the sooner the better probably. But you’ve got to work with wind, solar, and fossil fuel together until you can get there, in this commissioner’s opinion.  

And these people don’t seem to want to do that. And they have total disregard for their neighbors. And I’m appalled that the County Council’s considering doing what they’re considering doing. (And that’s a double whatever it was.) So, I would like to see, or I feel maybe we should come up with some kind of resolution in rebuttal to what the County Council is considering doing because I think it’s absolutely insane. And that’s this commissioner’s opinion. 

Port Commissioner Bell:  I’m going to chime in just with some background to my request.

Bell continues to point out some material, from the report presented at the March 19, 2019 Whatcom Business Alliance event that morning, about how property taxes could go up if Cherry Point Industries leave.

Briscoe talks about the benefit of Cherry Point industry money in the school system and how if we don’t have that income for the schools, it will affect children. He portrayed the dangers of industry going to other countries and how we could be running our jobs out of this country.

Port Commissioner Briscoe: So the folks that are presenting these changes to stop being able to fix your infrastructure and repair your facilities are not looking into the future very far, because this will affect their children and their school systems, and it will affect the children of their children into the future. 

People make decisions based on whims. Now I don’t want to destroy our environment. I don’t think anybody wants to destroy our environment. We want to take care of it. But you can’t take care of it if it’s in some other country. You have no control. You run all our corporations out of this country and you have no control over what goes on. So I would recommend that those folks come to the table, sit down and negotiate and find out a better way to do or reach the goal they want to get to. 

I mean it’s absolutely – I can’t fathom why everybody keeps wanting to run everything out of this country, run our jobs out. I understand the pollution part of it. I understand the dealing with that. I work on the water, you know. We don’t want pollution. But you can’t control it if it’s gone to some other place and anybody that doesn’t think the pollution in some other part of this world doesn’t come around to affect us isn’t very smart. 

We’re in a bubble. Our little cube, our little globe’s in a bubble and it all goes around.

So, I’m very disappointed in the people. Very disappointed in Todd for bringing this forward. I think it’s a bit deceitful the way it was done. And I don’t think it’s gonna take us where we need to go. It’s gonna ruin a lot of the good economy in this part of the country and the economy that’s yet to come, the growth that’s yet to come by people when they look and what we’re doing here, running people out, they’re not gonna to want to come here. So, I’ve got a real issue with this thing. 

And I think that as commissioners of the Port of Bellingham, I think we have to speak out. You know, it’s not that we’re anti-environment, but we’re not anti-economic growth. And that’s, this is what this will do. It will stunt the economic growth of this county. And I think it’s uncalled for. That’s all I have to say about it. It was probably way more than I should have. But it’s what it is. 

Port Commissioner Shepard: I too, I support getting more clarity from the County Council about the intent and the actual implications of what they’re trying to pass because I want to make sure that I understand fully from them what those implications would be. I feel like there’s a little bit of gray area that I’m still trying to parse out. So I –

Port Commissioner Briscoe: There’s a lot of gray area.

Port Commissioner Shepard: I do support the request. And I just want to highlight one of the projects that the, Jolie, from Phillips 66 highlighted today, is one of those examples of that capacity we have is to support the ability for these existing employers to transition. And so, this is something I’m going to be meeting with Don next week, and I’d like our staff to be able to spend a little bit of time thinking on how we can support. 

So, Jolie mentioned a potential partnership that Phillips 66 is going to have with REG. REG is the largest supplier of renewable and biodiesel in the country. They’re one of the largest in the world. They have a substantial plant in Gray’s Harbor which employs people and uses an older, a refinery that had closed and is now producing renewable diesel. 

And they’re interested in a partnership at the Phillips 66 plant. And it could represent over a hundred jobs and up to a billion dollars of investment in this community. It’s a great example of one of our existing employers looking to transition, looking at the future, looking at where the markets are going and how they have ability to not only to support that, but grow with their base here. 

And so anytime when I see one of our big employers wanting to do those things, I think it’s a home run. We’re able to solidify their presence in our community so we retain them as an employer and help them grow and transition. So it’s something that I want to look into more. And I was just out with one of our Council, County Council Members, one of our PUD members at the Phillips 66 plant yesterday and having a discussion with the REG team and the Phillips team about their ideas, where they’re going, and what are their obstacles. And I think Don will have, and his team will have, some good suggestions on how to meet some of the obstacles they see ahead of them.

Port Commissioner Bell: I’m gonna, just real quick, I think it’s naive to think that everyone in this marketplace doesn’t understand where it’s going. I think everybody at Phillips 66 knows. I think everybody at BP knows. I even think the people at Alcoa know where the future is headed. And everybody is looking for a way to transition. It’s not just Phillips 66. I think, so we need to acknowledge they’re all in this marketplace together. They all have brains. They’re all thinking about what their future is going to be, the same way Detroit is thinking, or Detroit, what used to be Detroit, what the auto manufacturers are thinking about electric cars and alternative fuels for automobiles. Everybody is making a transition. 

We’re seeing an attack on an oil industry for the fact that they make oil. We’re not seeing the same attack on automobile manufacturers for making cars that use gasoline. There is a transition the marketplace is making in the automobile industry. We’re just asking for the same thing to happen with the petroleum industry. And I think that’s going to be framework from which I start. 

Port Commissioner Shepard: Ultimately, we’re still using gasoline. And we’re still going to use gasoline for quite some time and it can either be produced here or it can be produced elsewhere. And I think on a more philosophical or a policy level, when we’re wanting to look at where we address the change, it’s more with the enduser, and endusers’ utilization of that product, not the producer.

I think the same goes for power production and other things. We want to be thoughtful about where we’re trying to put our regulations. 

Port Commissioner Bell: And one of the things that disturbed me the most was the climate strike that our students took a day off of school. When you look up the reason that they took that, one of the items in that was that they did not want to fund any infrastructure improvements on existing oil facilities, which is like killing people. Because you’ve got to Improve these facilities. You’ve got to keep them operational. You’ve got to be able to put the money in them to keep them going and keep them safe. To try to block that is just foolish.

And I’m worried about where we’re headed, if that’s, if that’s the reason our kids are leaving school is to go out and tell us in the streets that we need to stop funding the infrastructure at these places. And that infrastructure needs to be in place. 

Port Commissioner Briscoe: As they all rode to the school in a bus and they’re all using their phones that are made out of plastic from petroleum and their laptops and everything else. It isn’t just about the fossil fuels being burnt. It’s not everything it’s used for. So it’s disturbing. 

Port Commissioner Bell: So I’d like to welcome you, Rob, to this debate. 

Executive Director Fix: Thank you. Appreciate it. Looking forward to that. 

Port Commissioner Briscoe: It’s disturbing that our young folks will go out and do something like that without really looking into what it is that they’re doing, and how it will affect them and the place they live in. It’s a bit disturbing. And so enough of whipping that dead horse. Do you have any more on it?

Port Commissioner Shepard: I will let it go. 

Port Commissioner Briscoe: Ken?

Port Commissioner Bell: Me too.

Port Commissioner Briscoe: And I, as well, will let it go. 

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