The Cole Train: First Salvo

By Tip JohnsonOn May 30, 2011

Craig Cole, erstwhile local leader and one-time local politician, is now stumping for a coal port, after his chain of grocery stores failed. Hey, everyone needs a job! Yet, his background in public policy might have steered him in a very different direction. Everyone knows that government must have adequate revenues to provide services.

An analysis promoting the direct use of coal admits this doesn't always work. "Local jurisdictions were usually unable to raise sufficient tax revenue to provide adequate public services because taxes on coal might have handicapped the ability of local operations to compete. Roads, schools, water and sewage facilities, recreation, health care, and local public administration suffered from this unwillingness or inability to tax adequately…"

Strange, but true!

Ken Oplinger, head of our Chamber of Commerce and a principal coal car in the Cole Train, has an advertising campaign that asserts we need jobs and should all support the proposed terminal. How did coal work out for Appalachia, Ken? The same study states, "The Appalachian coalfields have produced more than 90 percent of all coal ever mined in the United States." But it morosely admits, "Chronic community underdevelopment exists throughout this region…" Yes, Appalachia is notoriously one of the poorest regions in America. Is that what our Chamber should be boosting?

The ubiquitous caboose in this venture is has-been Dave Warren of local Central Labor fame. He thinks the proposed terminal is great, too, despite (the same study) admitting that "The history of coal’s labor-management relations is a chronicle of turmoiI caused by uncertain markets, hostile attitudes, and inequities." It observes that labor's efforts have been largely ineffective because the industry has managed planned stockpiles sufficient to outlast strikes and wear down labor demands. Wow, Dave! And you're from Central Labor? But maybe he is being true to his roots. After all, the risks to the general public far exceed those to coal industry workers. (Same study) "About two-thirds of all coal is shipped by railroad. More fatalities result from coal transport than from mining." And that could be our waterfront! Have a nice shoreline walk. Welcome to Bellingham. Just be careful and wear a dust mask.

And there are far less favorable studies available. This one asserts that "…the life cycle effects of coal and the waste stream generated are costing the U.S. public a third to over one-half of a trillion dollars annually."

This study finds that the true costs of coal utilization should be adding as much as 26.89 cents per kilowatt hour, costs currently borne by the public through subsidies and impacts. That makes solar and wind look cheap. And that's before accounting for "…impacts of toxic chemicals and heavy metals on ecological systems…ill-health endpoints (morbidity)…direct risks and hazards posed by sludge, slurry…eutrophication of fresh and coastal sea water…acid rain and acid mine drainage…long-term impacts on the physical and mental health of those living in coal-field regions…health impacts and climate forcing…and the full assessment of impacts due to an increasingly unstable climate."

But why should Cole, Oplinger, and Warren care about general health and ecological or macroeconomic problems when their microeconomic possibilities are increasing? You can wreck anything if you can make a buck, right? That's Free Enterprise, or at least enterprise free of compunction.

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About Tip Johnson

Writers • Member since Jan 11, 2008

Tip Johnson is a longtime citizen interest advocate with a record of public achievement projects for good government and the environment. A lifelong student of government, Tip served two terms on the Bellingham City Council and has worked on many community boards and committees. He travelled with the Federal Transit Administration and Department of Commerce on mass transit trade missions in SE Asia and Africa before settling down to focus on keeping public interests at the fore of local government and the course of growth and development.

Comments by Readers

Clayton Petree

May 31, 2011


Thanks for the article and links to where you ‘mined’ the information.  The article in the Herald this weekend about the lower jobs projections was interesting…  I have serious concerns about how few jobs a coal port will produce especially with what I believe is a high environmental cost.

As you may know, I am the only mayoral candidate that has released a position on the coal terminal subject.  I’ve promised to learn and participate in the terminal process so I’ve released a position paper that will also be part of how I participate.  I certainly hope the EIS fully studies the effects a coal terminal will have on ALL of the communities in Washington that are affected from point of entry to exit.  I also hope the powers that be study potential, viable alternative uses to this private use of a public resource (our waterway).

If you would like to read what I?ve written, here?s a link: Position on Terminal.pdf



Ryan M. Ferris

May 31, 2011

Since they are planning on digging up the Comox Valley, why wouldn’t they consider digging up the rest of Bellingham and Whatcom County? Two coal terminals near abundant supplies of product would increase efficiency and lower cost dramatically.  We’re done with the real estate bubble. You either made your $$$ or your in foreclosure, bankrupt, kaput. So now on with the exported coal bubble. Forget about preserving community and neighborhoods. Just dig for coal baby, dig. I still remember the clause in our title document - the one that forbid the homeowner to to own rights to the coal under his own property….I wondered about that…


Todd Granger

May 31, 2011


Your title document’s already defined.


Tip Johnson

Jun 01, 2011

Ryan makes a very good point.  We have coal.  We don’t need to dig it up in Wyoming and ship it across country.  We can dig it up right here and get all the benefits Appalachia has enjoyed over the years.


Todd Granger

Jun 01, 2011

Even before there was such a thing as Bellingham, people from Appalachia…


David Camp

Jun 02, 2011

Tip - this is a project of global capital, which spans physical mines in Montana and Wyoming, via trains that pass through Idaho and Washington, via proposed ports in WA, through international waters to power plants in China. And the whole thing is financed by Goldman Sachs and advanced via their hirelings and proxies like Mr. Cole.

Their tactic is to keep the opposition local, small, and divided, while they run a coordinated campaign financed by our own bailout money. SO not only do we get to take our own volunteer time away from working and enjoying life, but we have to fight an outfit financed with our own money!

Such is life in the State Capitalist (ex-republic) empire of Amerika. We need never fear because our federal government serves global capital, and this is good, the American way, with a chemical chicken in every microwave and a minimum wage job for life (because they squandered the social security surplus on war and bailouts for Goldman Sachs bonus billions).

And Patty Murray apparently has sponsored a bill to finance the coal port? If this thing is such a good idea, why does Goldman Sachs need corporate welfare money to get it done? And who is PAtty Murray working for? Did she ask anyone she’s supposed tpo represent their opinion, or just rubber stamp the bill her corporate sponsors presented her with?

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