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‘Fat Lady About To Sing’ On Gateway Pacific Export Terminal Near Bellingham

Elaine Thompson
AP Photo
An oil train sits idled on tracks, blocked from progress by protesters blocking the track ahead Tuesday, Sept. 2, 2014, in Everett, Wash.

The next few months will be crucial in determining whether the West Coast serves as a gateway to the Pacific Rim for U.S. exports of fossil fuels. Anti-coal- and oil-train activists say their work, combined with global economic realities, is pointing increasingly toward a future free from energy exports that move through Northwest ports.

After years of heated debate, only two of six coal export facilities that were originally proposed for the Northwest are still in play. Many of the energy companies backing them have gone bankrupt or sold off their interests as the overseas markets for U.S. coal and oil products have deteriorated.

Now, only the plans for Longview in Southwest Washington and Gateway Pacific near Bellingham’s Cherry Point remain. And earlier this month, the company behind the Gateway Pacific proposal suspended work on its environmental impact statement. 

 “The fat lady is about to sing," said Jan Hasselman, a staff attorney with Earthjustice, a non-profit law firm that has been working to oppose fossil fuel exports on behalf of environmental groups. "We’ve been talking about Gateway Pacific for a very long time, but I think the weeks ahead will have some pretty significant movement in that.”

The company’s suspension of work on its environmental impact statement  comes in the wake of a new goal announced by the Army Corps of Engineers. They say they now want to determine by the end of April whether building the terminal would interfere significantly with the Lummi tribe’s treaty rights to fish in the area. Hasselman says the writing is on the wall.

 “Our view is that it’s not a close call, the corps is going to have to — if it follows the law — deny the permit up front, without completing the environmental review," he said.

If the permit is denied, the terminal could not be built, unless the company files suit to challenge such a decision. Proponents of the Gateway Pacific Terminal say it would create jobs related to all kinds of exports, not just of coal and oil products.

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