BELLINGHAM—Ever since the plans for SSA Marine’s coal shipping terminal at Cherry Point became public, city officials have been saying that they would have no direct control over the coal trains that would pass through the city if Gateway Pacific Terminal is built.
A new citizens’ group plans to change all that, but they seem to face overwhelming legal odds.
Rick Dubrow, owner of A1 Builders, is one of the key organizers of a new political action committee called No Coal! On Jan. 26, Dubrow said the group will make public its draft of a proposed new city ordinance that would prohibit any transport of coal through Bellingham by rail or any other means.
In conventional legal terms, that doesn’t seem to make much sense. The federal government regulates the interstate rail system, and Burlington Northern & Santa Fe Railway Co. has a legal right-of-way through the city. BNSF spokeswoman Suann Lundsberg said federal law requires the railroad to ship coal and other legal cargoes that shippers want to move via rail.
But Dubrow and Stony Bird, a former corporate attorney working with the Bellingham group, say they are setting out to establish some new legal groundwork that would put the rights of communities and ecosystems on equal or greater footing with the rights of railroads and other corporations.
They are taking their cue from the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund, which was involved in a successful 2010 effort to get the Pittsburgh, Pa. City Council to ban fracking for natural gas within the city limits.