Both sides on wrong track in Cherry Point dispute

The Whatcom County Council has NOT banned the export of unrefined fossil fuels, despite what Tony Larson of the Whatcom Business Alliance wrote in his opinion piece in last week’s Lynden Tribune. To make it very clear, I have edited Larson’s remarks for accuracy:

On Sept. 27, 2016, the Whatcom County Council passed a six-month moratorium on new building permits for project facilities intended to facilitate that bans the export of unrefined fossil fuels at Cherry Point.

A moratorium is a commonly used tool to pause the processing of new development permits, while changes to planning rules and regulations are being considered. The Whatcom County Council passed their moratorium to give everyone time to consider amendments to the County’s Comprehensive Plan section on the Cherry Point Urban Growth Area.

It’s unfortunate that both industry boosters and environmentalists have characterized the moratorium as a ban on exports, the former booing, the latter cheering. Focusing on what it is not, and ignoring the actual Comp Plan amendments will not lead to a positive resolution to this half-decade dispute over future development of Cherry Point and the adjacent waters.

So what are the goals of the Comp Plan amendments currently being considered by the County Planning Commission? The proposed amendments are intended to bring into the Comprehensive Plan a clear acknowledgment of the challenges and external restraints we must currently work within when making planning and development decisions.

On the state level, the laws include the Cherry Point Aquatic Reserve’s protection of tidelands and the species that rely on them, and various laws on shorelines, water quality, etc.

On the federal level, they include tribal treaty rights and federal permits required under the Clean Water Act and the Rivers & Harbors Act to do any grading, filing, building piers, both above and below the high tide mark. Another restraint is the Magnuson Amendment of 1977 restricting tanker traffic east of Port Angeles.

Wait, what? Restricting oil tanker traffic? Yes, the Magnuson Amendment to the Marine Mammal Protection Act bans any project east of Port Angeles that would “result in the increase in the volume of crude oil capable of being handled in any such facility (measured as of October 18, 1977). other than oil to be refined for consumption in the State of Washington.”

This law was passed after the current Puget Sound refineries were built. It would prohibit any new export terminal at Cherry Point for Bakken crude destined for overseas. But this law didn’t come into play during the coal port fight, because it doesn’t apply to boat-loads of coal. It also doesn’t apply to liquified natural gas (LNG) which is also something being considered for export. And it does not apply to existing Cherry Point refineries as long as they don’t try to expand their capacity to import crude oil.

The proposed County Comprehensive Plan amendments are intended to make clear the regulatory environment within which we must make planning and development decisions. If you disagree with these state and federal rules, go lobby your Congressperson. Here in Whatcom County, let’s make a plan for Cherry Point that we can all agree with.

Two more of the planned four meetings on these Cherry Point UGA amendments are coming up Thursday, November 10 and December 8. Both will start at 6:30 pm in the County Council Chambers. Read the meeting materials HERE.