On prohibiting additional fossil fuel refineries at Cherry Point / Facebook post, Sj Robson

July 18, 2019 Sandy Robson

In listening to part of the audio recording of the County Council Special Committee of the Whole (SCOTW) meeting held Tuesday, July 9, 2019, Council member Barbara Brenner made a motion to remove a proposed code amendment which would prohibit additional fossil fuel refineries at Cherry Point. Council member Satpal Sidhu seconded that motion, and then there was a discussion by the Council. The code amendment pertains to Whatcom County Code, and would be to address the County’s Comprehensive Plan policy specific to Cherry Point.

After the Council’s discussion, a vote was called for on Council member Brenner’s motion seeking to remove the proposed code amendment which would prohibit additional fossil fuel refineries at Cherry Point. Council members Buchanan, Donovan, Browne and Frazey all voted (No) against Council member Brenner’s proposed amendment. Council member Brenner voted (Yes) to approve it, and Council member Byrd was absent. 

Council member Satpal Sidhu voted to abstain on that particular vote. 

I called Council member Sidhu on Thursday, July 11, and explained that in listening to the SCOTW meeting held on July 9, I heard that he abstained on Council member Brenner’s motion seeking to remove the proposed code amendment which would prohibit additional fossil fuel refineries at Cherry Point. I told him I had two questions related to his abstention on that vote. 

First, I asked Council member Sidhu why he abstained on Council member Brenner’s motion. Rather than answer the question, Council member Sidhu began to speak about how it bothers him that people were upset with him for his having seconded a motion made by Council member Brenner, and he went on about that. I told him I didn’t care if he seconded the motion made by Council member Brenner — I cared about him abstaining.

Then, he said his thinking all along has been that we should not have refineries getting into becoming export terminals for crude oil. He explained that several years ago after Congress lifted the ban on exporting crude oil that he did not want the refineries to become export terminals.

After listening a while, since he was not really yet answering my question, I suggested that perhaps my second question I had would help get my first question answered. I asked him 
my second question which was whether he supports or opposes the idea of additional fossil fuel refineries at Cherry Point.

Council member Sidhu talked about how no one is going to agree with all of an elected official’s votes on issues. I told him that I understand that as I don’t expect to always agree with some votes, but I explained that the issue of whether he supports or opposes the idea of additional fossil fuel refineries at Cherry Point is a dealbreaker for me.

He told me that as he had said a number of years ago, “If push comes to shove and we would have to refine more crude oil, I would rather see it done in the U.S. and not overseas.”

I responded that was a general statement he was making, and impressed hon him that I am speaking specifically about Cherry Point, where we already have two refineries and an aluminum smelter. I explained that I am not speaking generally about any other place in the U.S. — I’m speaking specifically about Cherry Point which is only about a mile and a half from where I live, and I (and others) already feel the impacts from the refineries. 

It was frustrating that during our entire phone conversation, Council member Sidhu never directly answered either of my two questions which, again were:

1) Can you please explain your reason for abstaining on that particular vote?

2) Do you support or oppose the construction of additional fossil fuel refineries at Cherry Point? 

Although, Council member Sidhu’s, “If push comes to shove and we would have to refine more crude oil, I would rather see it done in the U.S. and not overseas,” statement pretty much carries an implication with it.

Presently, Satpal Sidhu is running in the primary election for Whatcom County Executive. I want and expect Democratic and Progressive candidates running for office in Whatcom County to unequivocally state that they oppose the idea of additional fossil fuel refineries at Cherry Point. 

My phone discussion with Council member Sidhu on this issue prompted me to then contact the other two Democratic candidates running for county executive, Karen Burke and Jim Boyle, to ask them if they support or oppose additional fossil fuel refineries at Cherry Point. I did not bother contacting Tony Larson, the conservative candidate running for county executive who is supported by the Whatcom Republicans, because his actions over the years already have clearly demonstrated that he is pro-fossil fuel development at Cherry Point.

Responding to my question, county executive candidate Karen Burke told me yesterday, “I absolutely oppose” additional fossil fuel refineries at Cherry Point. She also directed me to her website to view her platform. The Cherry Point section of her platform, states in part: “I do not support expansion projects that are designed to increase fossil fuel imports, exports or refining capacity in Whatcom County.” And, her platform states, “I support efforts to attract new industries that create family wage jobs and transition fossil fuel production to clean energy.”

Responding to my question, county executive candidate Jim Boyle told me yesterday, “I oppose additional fossil fuel refineries at Cherry Point.” He further said, “We should be looking at expanding into cleaner and renewable fuel production.” Mr. Boyle also said, “I have a deep passion for fighting climate change and ensuring a healthy environment.”

I’ve appreciated numerous votes Council member Sidhu has made during his time on the County Council, especially his votes to approve the multiple temporary moratoriums on the acceptance and processing of applications and permits for new or expanded facilities in the Cherry Point UGA, the primary purpose of which would be the shipment of unrefined fossil fuels not to be processed at Cherry Point. 

However, the phone conversation I had last week with Council member Sidhu was particularly problematic for me. Cherry Point is home to a significant environmental resource and unique aquatic ecosystem in the Salish Sea. The Cherry Point Aquatic Reserve Management Plan, aimed at protecting the health and aquatic environment of Cherry Point, is a 90-year plan that was put into place in 2000 by the Washington State Department of Natural Resources.

The plan states the Cherry Point Aquatic Reserve’s “marine waters and aquatic lands are a portion of Treaty-protected Usual and Accustomed grounds and stations of local Native American Indians, and are used by the Indians for commercial, ceremonial, and subsistence purposes.”

If a candidate running for county executive is not willing to say, clearly, that they oppose additional fossil fuel refineries at Cherry Point, that is a dealbreaker for me. I will be supporting candidates who are willing to say, clearly, that they oppose additional fossil fuel refineries at Cherry Point.

Read Sandy’s post on her Facebook page here.

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