Western Exposure

What are Westerners doing on issues of social justice, health and the environment? We’ll keep you up to date on key issues as they surface in newspapers and on Web sites, blogs and broadcast stations. We surf a lot so you can surf a little.

Feds rush toward LNG in Coos Bay

The state of Oregon is fighting federal efforts to push through a liquid natural gas terminal in Coos Bay, Oregon, reports Ted Sickinger of The Oregonian.

The Jordan Cove Energy Project terminal is being developed by Fort Chicago Energy Partners LP and Energy Projects Development LLC to import up to 1 billion cubic feet of gas per day, mostly for customers in Northern California.

That supercooled natural gas, which would also be sold to Pacific Northwest buyers, would travel through a 234-mile long Pacific Connector pipeline to be built over forests and marshlands.

Opponents include the state of Oregon, environmentalists and landowners who  say the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission approved the LNG terminal in Coos Bay without fully studying the environmental effects of building the infrastructure to pump gas from the Coos Bay terminal to California via an interstate gas pipeline near Malin, Oregon.  The feds also gave too much power to the developers to condemn private property, they say.

Oregon Gov. Ted Kulongoski and Attorney General John Kroger vowed to press the commission to reconsider, and held out the possibility of appealing to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.  They've done so already with another commission-approved LNG terminal on the lower Columbia River.

Rita Hibbard's picture

Shooting deaths prompt semi-automatic gun ban proposal

Recent shooting deaths in Washington state – including the shootings of police officers –are causing state lawmakers to consider banning semi-automatic weapons.

rita_hibbardwebThree state lawmakers say they will introduce such a measure when the Legislature convenes in January, the Seattle Times reports. The proposal would prohibit the sale of semi-automatic weapons to private citizens and require current owners to pass background checks.   Supporters say the bill is introduced in honor of Aaron Sullivan, an 18-year-old who was fatally shot in July in Seattle, allegedly with an assault-style weapon. In addition, Seattle Police officer Timothy Brenton was fatally shot Oct. 31 with a semi-automatic rifle. His partner was wounded. The bill is backed by Rep. Ross Hunter, D-Medina; Sen. Adam Kline, D-Seattle; and Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles, D-Seattle.

The proposed legislation would cover ban semi-automatics designed for military use that are capable of rapid-fire and can hold more than 10 rounds.

Puget Sound fouled by West Point sewage

Last spring, PBS's Frontline aired an episode called Poisoned Waters that investigated major U.S. waterways in “peril” due to pollution. Among them was Puget Sound.

“We thought all the way along that [Puget Sound] was like a toilet: What you put in, you flush out...We  [now] know that's not true. It's like a bathtub: What you put in stays there,”Washington Gov. Christine Gregoire told Frontline.

Puget Sound just got a little dirtier. Beginning Monday night and lasting until Tuesday morning, around 10 million gallons of sewage flowed from the West Point Treatment Plant, located in Magnolia, into Puget Sound.

“This situation is unacceptable,” wrote Christie True, director of King County's Wastewater Treatment Division, on the King County website.

According to King County's website, “the overflow began as employees prepared the plant for high flows during last night’s rainfall. Standard operating procedures during wet weather entail readying an emergency bypass gate that can open automatically to prevent flooding inside the plant that could harm workers and damage equipment.”

A switch malfunctioned, activating the bypass gate and diverting the untreated wastewater into Puget Sound. Pam Elardo, the plant's manager, told the Seattle Times that it took three hours to repair the switch in order to close the bypass gate.

King County immediately closed nearby beaches out of concern for public health and inspection. The county took samples of the water and will continue to monitor the water over the next couple of days.

Cleaning up Coeur d'Alene

Rocky Barker of the Idaho Statesman highlights the history behind a $1.79 billion bankruptcy settlement between the American Smelting and Refining Co. (ASARCO), owner of the Bunker Hill Mine in Kellogg, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Lead from the mines helped fuel World War II's barrage of bullets and Idaho's economic trajectory, but the mine owners knowingly emitted large amounts of lead into the environment, though they could have fixed the emissions control.

Instead, they pursued record profits while poisoning the air with a substance known to make children fidgety, dumb and brain damaged.  The Kellogg mine was on the Coeur d'Alene river, which drains into Lake Coeur d'Alene, which along with the upper reaches of the Spokane River is now one of the nation's largest Superfund sites.

Now, the mine's waste tailings, full of heavy metals like cadmium, spread into Washington, and the state and the E.P.A.'s work is not done.  $435 million of the settlement is set aside specifically for Bunker Hill.  The clean up of the mines is revving Idaho's economic engine now, attracting another $15-20 million in stimulus funds from the Obama Administration.

Read University of Idaho Associate Professor Katherine Aiken's excellent history of the Bunker Hill mine, whose owners were embroiled in Watergate, giving illegal contributions to the EPA to influence its decisions, rather than spending the money on cleaning up the toxic legacy they had left to Idaho and Washington's children.

Rita Hibbard's picture

The costly toxic legacy of the industrial age

rita_hibbardweb

The largest environmental bankruptcy settlement in U.S. history will pump more than $800 million into the Pacific Northwest to cleanup up tons of lead and arsenic wastes near Everett, Tacaoma and Coeur d’Alene, Idaho.

"With this settlement we are in a much stronger position to assure that people's children and grandchildren have a cleaner place to play and grow up," said Dan Opalski, deputy administrator for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in the Northwest.

In the Puget Sound region, the waste came from smelters near Tacoma and Everett operated for more than 100 years by Asarco and its predecessors, and financed by industrialists including the Rockefellers and Guggenheims, extracting lead, arsenic, zinc and copper from sites around the country. The smelters spewed pollution into the air, that deposited contaminated soil around homes, schools, playgrounds and parks in the region.

Everett will receive nearly $45 million in clean up funds, which will go towards evaluating and cleaning up about 600 homes in the north part of the city, the Everett Herald reports.

Push for strong climate treaty still underway, says Seattle climate activist in Copenhagen

By Alexander Kelly and Blair Kelly

In the final installment of InvestigateWest’s conversation with KC Golden, policy director of Seattle-based Climate Solutions, we ask for Golden's impression of how the talks have unfolded so far and what he expects for the coming week.

Also, hear Golen discuss the Northwest’s role in overcoming the stigma of indifference to climate change that has plagued the United States in recent years and a comment on the African delegations’ responses to the proceedings so far.

Seattle climate activist KC Golden discusses how Copenhagen talks can affect NW economic growth

By Alexander Kelly and Blair Kelly

In the second installment of InvestigateWest’s interview with KC Golden of Seattle-based Climate Solutions, we ask how Pacific Northwesterners can get involved in the global effort to arrest climate change and how a deal in Copenhagen may affect the Northwest’s emerging green economy.