By John Stark
While the Keystone XL pipeline and coal export proposals such as the Gateway Pacific Terminal in Whatcom County are getting a lot of attention, crude oil pipeline/export proposals are becoming a focus of greater concern partly because of the potential increase in tanker traffic just north of the border.
In an effort to respond to fears about the Enbridge and Kinder Morgan pipeline proposals, Canadian officials have announced a plan to review oil tanker safety regulations and add new laws and penalties. Read the Reuters report here, via gCaptain.
Here is a recent report from the Financial Post about Kinder Morgan’s existing operations and its expansion plans. This report notes strenuous opposition from First Nations groups, as well as the mayors of Burnaby and Vancouver.
Tankers laden with crude oil enter Whatcom County waters regularly en route to the BP and Phillips 66 refineries, carrying oil from Alaska and other sources.
Canadian energy companies now hope to export Alberta tar sands crude by sea from ports in British Columbia. Canadian federal officials are expected to make a decision on the Enbridge project before the end of the year. The terminal for that pipeline is at Kitimat, east of the Queen Charlotte Islands.
Kinder Morgan, already operating a pipeline with a terminal in the Vancouver, B.C. area, has yet to apply for regulatory approval of its planned expansion of that pipeline. Here is a critical report on its environmental risks, prepared by a coalition of environmental groups.
A map included with this report from the Sierra Club indicates that tankers leaving the Kinder Morgan site would skirt the western edge of the San Juan Islands.
By Ralph Schwartz
I like graft and corruption as much as the next guy, but I’m having difficulty getting excited about the latest controversy in the Whatcom County Council.
Council member Barbara Brenner accused the former executive (Not to name names, but wouldn’t that be Pete Kremen?) of misappropriating a $1.5 million state grant that was supposed to go to the county conservation futures fund by putting it in the parks improvement fund.
The grant covered the cost of the county’s purchase in 2010 of land that became Lily Point Marine Park in Point Roberts. The county paid for the land up front with money from the conservation futures fund — a fund dedicated to the purchase of land in the county for conservation. The futures fund is built up with property tax revenues.
So taxpayers’ money wasn’t returned to the futures fund after the state grant came in. It went instead to the parks improvement fund, which has fewer strings attached.
County Executive Jack Louws said today that the state Attorney General’s Office gave an opinion on this little switcheroo. It was legitimate; however, the county hadn’t formally approved the fund switch.
The council will vote tonight on a resolution to confirm a move that’s already been made. If it decides not to approve the resolution, the executive said he would make sure the money was returned to the futures fund.
No money was misspent, Louws said. And it’s no skin off his nose, whichever way the council votes. “It’s just a political decision at this point,” he said this morning.
Even so, fireworks are expected tonight. Council members Ken Mann and Sam Crawford, on the finance committee, agreed at this morning’s committee meeting to put off debate on the issue until tonight. They expected robust discussion among council members and said the public is likely to speak out on the matter tonight as well.
Will Kremen be blasted for socking money away for his “pet project?” What was this “pet project,” anyway? Will Brenner and Kremen stop exchanging barbs and finally engage in a duel, to resolve their rivalry once and for all?
Stay tuned. All will be revealed tonight. Whatever happens will likely make Page 2 of Thursday’s Bellingham Herald.
U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen, D-Everett, has staked out a position on the debt reduction plans now being thrashed out by the bipartisan “supercommittee.” Larsen says he agrees that the nation would benefit from a big deficit cut, but he fears that Republican proposals would harm Medicare and Social Security and the people who rely on them, while making it harder for the US to invest in the future.
Larsen sent out a press release outlining his position after he voted against a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution. That amendment was defeated in the House. Here’s CNN’s report.
Here is Larsen’s press release:
WASHINGTON—Rep. Rick Larsen, WA-02, today voted against a Republican balanced budget amendment that could require steep cuts to Medicare and Social Security.
“I voted against the amendment because it would balance the budget on the backs of our most vulnerable citizens,” Larsen said. “I am a strong supporter of restoring fiscal discipline through responsible means. I recently sent a letter to the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction calling on them to ‘go big’ by presenting a bold plan that would reduce the deficit by $4 trillion. (Stark note: Larsen is one of 100 members of Congress from both parties who signed this letter.)
“The latest proposal to amend the Constitution that Republicans put to a vote today would have disproportionately targeted Medicare and Social Security, while allowing corporations and the highest earners to benefit from massive tax cuts. It would have also barred the federal government from taking on debt to invest in the future of our economy—from infrastructure improvement, to clean energy to education. Without this sort of investment, our economy will not be able to grow and provide the jobs that Americans need.
“Former Washington Governor Daniel Evans recently called the balanced budget amendment ‘an impractical idea’ for which the consequences ‘could be disastrous.’ (Links to Evans’ op-ed piece in Seattle Times.)
“Independent analysts argue that the balanced budget requirement, if applied to the current fiscal year, would require cuts totaling $1.5 trillion, resulting in the loss of 15 million jobs. That would double the unemployment rate from 9 to 18 percent.
“The path to real deficit reduction and a balanced budget requires sacrifices from all Americans. From reducing spending, like cutting agriculture subsidies and accelerating the drawdown in Afghanistan, to increasing revenue by closing tax loopholes for massively profitable companies and restoring tax rates on the highest earners, we can achieve our aims through shared sacrifice and bipartisan compromise.
“While some in Washington, D.C. want to slash entitlement spending, we must protect the benefits that our seniors have earned. Medicare must remain a guaranteed benefit and not converted to a voucher system. Social Security’s long-term solvency can be ensured if we lift the cap on earnings subject to the Social Security tax.”
“We can achieve major deficit reduction without shredding the social safety net, but we will only do so if we set partisan gimmicks like this balanced budget amendment aside and work together on these sensible solutions.”
End Rick Larsen press release
It’s April Fools Day again, and the Politics Blog security system has already fended off a press release announcing that Mayor Dan Pike has ordered the city to convert to the metric system to accommodate visiting Canadians. Nice try.
This April Fools Day is a special one for me. It’s the 30th anniversary of a hoax that was perpetrated on us 30 years ago by former Sheriff Larry Mount and the late Doug Gill, who was, I believe, undersheriff at the time.
Two days earlier, John Hinckley had become the most infamous man in America after wounding President Ronald Reagan in an assasssination attempt.
On April Fools Day, the Herald’s cops reporter was making his rounds at the sheriff’s office when he noticed a bulletin coming out of the office telex machine, which was used in those days to relay law enforcement information on fugitives and so forth.
This message was special. It informed the sheriff’s office that because of threats on Hinckley’s life, he would be transferred to a secret location: the Whatcom County Jail.
I wasn’t there, but as I remember the reporter’s retelling of the episode from 30 years ago, the reporter said Gill and Mount were yelling at him for peeking at this top-secret message.
The reporter raced back to the newsroom where a spirited ethical discussion broke out about whether we had a greater duty to our readers’ right to know, versus the legitimate security concerns of law enforcement.
This discussion lasted just a few minutes before someone realized what day it was. There was never any danger of this appearing in print.
I shudder to think what might have happened in a similar situation today.
A public relations consultant for Lummi Nation has provided us with a copy of a letter from the chairmen of four other Northwest tribes to U.S. Sens. Maria Cantwell and Patty Murray, as well as U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen, concerning the drawn-out negotiations over a new lease for the county’s ferry to Lummi Island.
“As a federally recognized Indian tribe, the Lummi Nation has jurisdiction and the right to govern its own lands,” the letter says. “In giving Whatcom County a deadline for resolving safety issues on reservation roads and waters that result from the operation of the county’s Lummi Island ferry, the Lummi Nation was acting within its sovereign right.”
The letter notes that islanders and their backers have mounted a letter writing campaign to the congressional delegation asking them to intervene in the matter, and asks the senators and congressman to be wary.
“In our view, any federal intervention that seeks to force the Lummi Nation to use its land or resources in a manner without their consent would be a breach of the federal trust responsibilities and existing federal law,” the letter says.
A few years ago, Whatcom County officials had expected to extend their lease of the ferry dock on the Lummi reservation by exercising a 25-year renewal option, enforceable by binding arbitration to determine renewal terms.
But although tribal officials signed a 1988 document that contained the renewal option, tribal officials contend that the lease is not binding because it was never approved by the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs, and county officials are not challenging that contention.
The signers of the letter include Nooksack Indian Tribe Chairman Bob Kelly, a former Whatcom County Council member; Swinomish Indian Tribal Community Chairman Brian Cladoosby; Tulalip Tribes Chairman Mel Sheldon; and Stillaguamish Tribe Chairman Shawn Yanity.
The county and the approximately 900 island residents face an April 10 deadline for resolution of the matter. More negotiations are scheduled for April 6.
The Los Angeles Times has an extensive report today on a bill proposed by Congressional Republicans that would require Homeland Security to develop a plan for total elimination of illegal immigration, complete with cost estimates.
Once that plan has been delivered, the bill backers say Congress can then decide whether to fund the plan.
The LA Times quotes some border observers as saying the whole thing is political posturing, since sealing the border is a practical impossibility.
From a Whatcom County standpoint, the indirect costs of such measures need to be considered as well. Making the elimination of illegal immigration the top priority might tend to make every legal border crossing rather onerous. What would that mean for trade and tourism on both borders?
If you stay in this business long enough, everything old becomes new, and vice versa.
It’s worth noting that back in 1981, port and railroad people made no mention of any existing right-of-way across the county on an east-west alignment to Cherry Point. They concluded that obtaining that right-of-way would be too difficult.
One might wonder: Why wasn’t such a seemingly logical link between the two parallel rail lines built decades ago? The answer seems to be that these two lines (Blaine-Bellingham-Everett via the coast, and Sumas-Burlington, via the South Fork-Highway 9 trajectory) were not built to form a coherent rail network. They were competing lines.
I’m going to oversimplify a bit here and get true rail history scholars a bit agitated, but it basically went like this: The coastal line originated as the Fairhaven & Southern, which was absorbed by Great Northern and later became part of the BNSF system. The Sumas route, a portion of it at least, was built by the Bellingham Bay and British Columbia Railroad, which eventually joined the Milwaukee Road.
This BB&BC RR had tracks extending from Bellingham northeast through such places as Van Wyck and Goshen before joining up with the north-south line that linked Sumas to Sedro-Woolley and Burlington. The existence of that connection enabled Bellingham people to take the train to the first Northwest Washington Fair in Lynden in 2010.
But that link was abandoned when Milwaukee Road shut down. That leaves the Bellingham coastal route as the most direct rail connection to Cherry Point.
Earlier today, Jack Delay of Communitywise Bellingham emailed me to clarify his stance on the potential routing of coal trains to the Gateway Pacific terminal at Cherry Point.
In an earlier article, I had erroneously suggested that Delay was proposing sending the trains full of Rocky Mountain coal through Canada, via the BNSF line that runs from Burlington to Sumas mostly alongside Highway 9. That route would take the trains into Canada and then down to Cherry Point, crossing back into the U.S. at Blaine.
That notion got Delay a testy email from a Blaine resident who didn’t relish the prospect.
Delay noted that in his written analysis of possible rail route alternatives, he favors a different approach: the completion of a cross-county rail connection that would enable the trains to go up the South Fork Valley and then head east toward Cherry Point without going all the way to Canada.
The existing east-west spur ends at Lynden. Extending that line west to the BNSF main line at Custer would mean coal trains rumbling through Lynden, I suppose.
Far-fetched? Check out Map 15 in Chapter Six of the Whatcom County Comprehensive Plan. It shows an “east-west rail proposal” as a dotted line from Lynden to Custer. (The map is on Page 23 of the pdf linked above.)
Also, on page 6-14 of the plan, Policy 6P-2 states: “Consider proposals for an east/west rail freight corridor.” (See pg. 14 of the pdf)
My next job: Finding out what “proposals” our county planners were referring to.
The Whatcom County Democrats tonight will consider a pair of resolutions, which both call for an independent investigation into the Sept. 11 attacks.
The resolutions differ, but both call for Sens. Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell, both Democrats, as well as Rep. Rick Larsen, D-Everett, to support an independent investigation. The resolutions states that important questions were left unanswered by the 9/11 Commission.
They both point out that a poll showed 37 percent of people agreed the nation needs a new investigation into the attacks to determine, among other things, “whether any U.S. government officials consciously allowed or helped facilitate their success.”
All members of the Whatcom Democrats can vote on these. A simple majority is needed to approve one or both.
Click here to see more, including the resolutions.
Dr. Robin Matthews and her team of researchers have issued the annual Lake Whatcom Monitoring Project report for 2010, and the results are not encouraging.
“I don’t think that we’re stabilizing yet,” Matthews said. “I was hoping that we might have been.”
Water quality analysis for the previous two years offered some small evidence that the quality of lake water might at least be stabilizing, although at a less-than desirable level. But the data collected in 2010 is mostly bad: dissolved oxygen levels in lake water are down, and phosphorus and algae levels are increasing.
Until 2009, those measurements didn’t seem to have any real-world impact. But in summer 2009, the algae levels got high enough to reduce capacity at the city water filtration plant, resulting in drastic steps to reduce city water consumption.
We’ll have a full story on Dr. Matthews’ report in print and online for Thursday, March 17. (Green water for St. Patrick’s Day?)
U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen’s office has issued this press release, plus a transcript of his statement before a House subcommittee, concerning the need to do more to combat piracy on the high seas.
Here it is:
Today, U.S. Representative Rick Larsen (D-Everett), Ranking Member of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation, co-led a hearing to examine the United States response to piracy. Last month, four Americans, including a couple from Seattle, were killed by Somali captors while on vacation.
“Today’s pirate is no Jack Sparrow,” said Rep. Larsen. “The statistics are startling. The New York Times reported in late February that more than 50 vessels were currently captive ranging from Thai fishing trawlers to European supertankers, with more than 800 hostages. These 800 hostages represent mariners and seafarers that are only doing their jobs. It is time for the international community to stop this injustice.”
“U.S. and international efforts to combat piracy have resulted in a mixed bag of success. According to the Government Accountability Office (GAO), prosecution of alleged pirates remains logistically difficult, the pirates have greatly expanded their area of attacks, there has been a steady increase in the number of attacks, and there are more ransoms being paid at increasing rates. This rise of piracy in the region puts mariners in danger and is a disruptive threat to world shipping,” Rep. Larsen concluded.
The full text of Rep. Larsen’s Opening Statement Follows:
Rep. Rick Larsen
Subcommittee on Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation
“Assuring the Freedom of Americans on the High Seas:
The United States Response to Piracy”
March 15, 2011
Thank you, Mr. Chairman, and thank you for calling today’s hearing. Piracy, particularly off the Somalia coast, is a disruptive threat to world shipping.
Tragically, just last month, piracy also became deadly for Jean and Scott Adam of Marina del Rey, California, and their friends, Phyllis Macay and Bob Riggle of Seattle, Washington. I extend my sympathies to their families.
These four individuals posed a threat to no one. They were not mariners involved in international trade. The Adams were living their life-long dream. Ms. Macay and Mr. Riggle were friends joining in the adventure.
While the circumstances of their deaths are still being investigated, we do know that they were killed by their Somali captors while their release was being negotiated. But for these pirates, these four U.S. citizens would be alive and well today. Today’s pirate is no Jack Sparrow.
Although piracy has been a threat to seafaring nations for thousands of years, the emergence of aggressive and persistent attacks off the Horn of Africa is especially concerning.
The killing of the four hostages aboard the Quest certainly increased the attention of the international community on piracy – and the international community has increased its focus on piracy.
The statistics are startling. The New York Times reported in late February that more than 50 vessels were currently captive ranging from Thai fishing trawlers to European supertankers, with more than 800 hostages. These 800 hostages represent mariners and seafarers that are only doing their jobs.
Once captured, these hostages can be held in deplorable conditions for months before release. It is time for the international community to stop this injustice.
The Gulf of Aden and the adjoining Indian Ocean constitute a critical shipping corridor. GAO’s September report on piracy states that over 33,000 ships pass through the Gulf of Aden annually. This includes tanker ships moving 10 to 15 percent of world petroleum shipments. For vessels headed west, the alternative route is around the tip of Africa and adds 4,900 nautical miles to the transit.
The rise of piracy in the region puts mariners in danger and poses an economic burden on ocean carriers and shipping companies. In fact, according to a Chatham House report, insurance premiums in the London insurance market for ships traveling through the Gulf rose tenfold in 2008. Fortunately, U.S. insurance rates have remained stable due to U.S. insurers not yet having to pay claims.
Several factors have contributed to the frequency of pirate attacks. A larger number of high-value targets passing through the Gulf, global proliferation of the small arms trade, and most significantly, persistent civil violence, lawlessness, and economic dislocation in Somalia.
Any comprehensive international approach to combating piracy must address the current political situation in Somalia, it must be truly international, and it must be a solution that will be address piracy around the world.
Somalia does not have a functioning government. With pirates having a virtually unlimited ability to operate from Somalia, piracy cannot be eliminated solely from the sea. I am particularly interested to hear what the State Department witness will say on this subject.
Last week, Bloomberg reported that China and Russia are leading a new effort at the United Nations to curb the threat of piracy off the coast of Somalia and defeat al-Qaeda-linked terrorists fighting to seize control of that nation.
According to the report, Russia has circulated a draft resolution that would commit the UN Security Council to “urgently” begin talks on creation of three courts for piracy cases. The measure also would urge construction of two prisons for convicted pirates, and demand that all nations enact laws to criminalize piracy.
The international community has stepped up efforts to combat piracy. Combined Task Force 151, the multi-national effort joined by the U.S, the European Union Operation ATALANTA, NATO, which the U.S. also supports, and independent states are patrolling the area and providing greater protection to ships traveling through the Gulf.
The International Maritime Bureau’s Piracy Reporting Center and MARAD have helped inform the maritime community about piracy and how to implement best practices for ships to evade and defend themselves from pirate attacks.
I look forward to discussing these international efforts with our witnesses.
GAO’s report from last September discusses several challenges and describes a mixed bag of success.
Prosecution of alleged pirates remains logistically difficult, although I note that on February 16, the pirate associated with the attack on the Maersk Alabama was sentenced to 33 years by a New York district judge.
The pirates have greatly expanded their area of attacks to an area as large as the lower 48 States.
There has been a steady increase in the number of attacks, even as the rate of success declines.
The number of hostages being held is increasing.
There are more ransoms being paid at increasing amounts.
These issues raise important questions for our panel.
Are the efforts of the U.S. and the international community succeeding or failing?
Are the rules of engagement changing?
In light of the recent killings, is transit in the area more or less dangerous?
When it comes to piracy in the 21st century, there is no X that marks the spot to point us in the right direction. But, there are several ways that U.S. policymakers can help combat piracy:
Encourage the international commercial maritime industry to adopt best practices;
Continue advances in the use of defensive technologies;
Help coastal states in pirate-prone areas boost their coastal monitoring and interdiction capabilities; and,
Provide resources to the Coast Guard and MARAD so they can continue to advise the industry on how to strengthen its own security.
Mr. Chairman, I thank you again for holding this hearing. I look forward to discussing these issues with the panel, and assessing how government and non-government entities can increase security and decrease opportunities for piracy, and help the maritime community navigate this serious issue.
This report from Bloomberg notes that two key features of President Barack Obama’s proposed new energy policy have been rather badly jinxed: First, increased offshore oil drilling, and now, the ongoing struggle to regain control of Japanese nuclear reactors in the wake of last week’s quake and tsunami.
As of a few minutes ago, that struggle was not going well.
Close to 30 years ago, back when the late Tom Glenn was port director, the Port of Bellingham was in preliminary talks to build a coal export terminal at Cherry Point, in cooperation with Burlington Northern and Mitsui Corp. In those days, the potential market was Japan. (Those talks ultimately went nowhere.)
Even if the threat of serious radiation bursts from the Japanese reactors can be contained, it appears that at least some of these reactors will never generate power again. One wonders if Japan would, or could, make up its power deficit with coal imports. Coal is a local issue once again, as you probably recall.
Lummi Nation has released a written statement responding to the letter sent to the Bureau of Indian Affairs by U.S. Sens. Maria Cantwell and Patty Murray and U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen, D-Everett, expressing concern over the statemate in negotiations beween Lummi Nation and Whatcom County over a new lease for the mainland Lummi Island Ferry dock on the Lummi Reservation.
The statement reiterates tribal concerns about traffic safety and the need for a hefty county expenditure on safety improvements in the area as part of any new lease deal.
The statement also refers to a 2009 traffic study prepared for both the county and tribe. In general, the study tends to downplay the safety issues arising from ferry operations.
The emailed statement also includes an interesting chronology of ferry history from the tribe’s perspective. Among other things, the chronology mentions unsuccessful efforts to get funding for traffic safety improvements.
Here is the text of the tribe’s statement, which is silent on the question of whether the tribe is prepared to take steps to stop ferry operations after April 10, 2011, when the tribe’s deadline expires:
The Lummi Nation appreciates Congressman Larsen, Senator Murray and Senator Cantwell engaging in this complex, longstanding issue.
For ten years the Lummi Nation has worked to resolve these issues and obtain a lease that is fair for everyone.
Safety is of paramount concern to the Lummi Nation.
There are numerous safety issues associated with the ferry traffic through the Lummi reservation: increased traffic volume, increased speeding that has contributed to fatalities, delayed access to the roadway because of traffic volume, and fear that our families and our community feel for their safety.
There are numerous safety issues at the side of the ferry dock that is on the Lummi Reservation: ferry line-up interferes with fishermen’s ability to exercise Treaty rights, and ferry line-up impacts pedestrians, including school children and families trying to go to the grocery store. Treaty-protected fishermen often find the boat ramp blocked by the ferry line-up, and ferry wake has damaged boats and led to injuries.
“At the Lummi Nation’s request Whatcom County has studied traffic safety and boat safety related to the side of the Gooseberry Point ferry dock, and these studies identified simple solutions that improve safety for everyone,” Lummi Nation Chairman Cliff Cultee said. “The Lummi Nation has participated in negotiations with Whatcom County for 10 years. The county need only review the findings in its own studies to understand our safety concerns.”
Whatcom County Executive Pete Kremen’s effort to get federal help in resolving the Lummi Island ferry stalemate appears to be bearing fruit.
Both Kremen and U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen, D-Everett, have shared a March 2 letter sent to the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs, over the signatures of Larsen and U.S. Sens. Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell, concerning the ferry situation.
The letter, addressed to BIA regional director Stanley Speaks in Portland, Ore., seems mild enough. The three say they are “concerned about this matter,” and they ask the BIA to respond to the county and provide “guidance and clarification on the BIA’s role as it relates to the lease of the tidelands held in trust.”
In an accompanying press release, Larsen uses somewhat stronger language:
“The bottom line is, we can not cut off access to the island for residents who depend on the ferry to go to school, shop for groceries or commute to work. Shutting down the ferry is not a solution to this problem. Negotiations on this issue must resume so a productive solution to this issue can be reached without hurting the local community.”
By coincidence, both Kremen and Lummi Indian Business Council Chairman Clifford Cultee are in Washington D.C., and Kremen said he expects to meet with Cultee on Friday, March 4 to discuss the ferry situation.
Up to now, the BIA has shown no inclination to get involved in the ferry issue. Agency officials have said their only role would be to review any new lease agreement between Lummi Nation and the county before it is approved. Here’s an earlier story on the BIA’s role.