As Joel Connelly at the Seattle Post-Intelligencer writes, the county was once nicknamed “Wide Open Whatcom” because it opened its borders for development projects that other regions of the country rejected. Different story Tuesday:
A slate of four Whatcom County Council candidates, backed by opponents of a huge proposed coal export terminal north of Bellingham, has forged into the lead in a nationally watched local election. The Council has a key, quasi-judicial role in whether to grant permits to the project.Fossil-fuel and related concerns poured money into the campaigns of pro-development candidates, but they faced an uprising of Bellingham-area residents and a determined coalition of Washington conservationists and the local Democratic Party. That coalition spent $250,000 on the contest and its four candidates won their races handily. They are Carl Weimer, Rud Browne, Barry Buchanan and Ken Mann.
The seven-member County Council will have authority over whether to grant permits to the proposed $600 million Gateway Pacific Terminal at Cherry Point north of Bellingham, which would export as much as 48 million tons of coal a year to China.
Although neither the pro-conservation nor pro-development candidates in the race mentioned the coal terminal in their campaigns because their quasi-judicial decision in the matter requires what Connelly labels the "appearance of impartiality," it's apparent that Gateway will now face some official opposition. Eric de Place of the Sightline Institute said: “It’s a signal: Nationally, the coal industry is in a death spiral, and cannot find buyers for its product. They cannot even buy an election right now. They’re grasping at straws.”
It's a bit early to suggest that the coal industry can't buy any election. But it's good to see one of its key attempts fail.