Factual and Moral Questions Raised at Spokane's Public Hearing on Coal Shipments

By Paige Browning

Hundreds of people attended Tuesday's public hearing in Spokane about a proposed coal export terminal in the Northwest. The meeting brought out strong emotions, and raised a moral question about how the hearings are run. The event focused on the proposed Gateway Terminal for Whatcom County, which would ship coal to Asia. 
People arrived as early as 9:00 a.m. for the 4:00 p.m. hearing at the Spokane County Fairgrounds. The first seventy five were given tickets to speak.  Matt Cohen was among the first 30 people to arrive, and was surrounded by people who were paid to be there.

“Some of the guys started talking to me, they said they were from a company called Labor Ready… hired by the pro-coal lobby. And they said it’s a job and they were specifically told not to talk to the media. They were told I support jobs, just don’t say anything else just say I support jobs.”
Crowd at Spokane coal shipping terminal public hearing. Photo by Paige Browning.

A lot of members of the crowd were downright mad that people were hired to get tickets.

“And they walked out the door after they got their tickets to go give them to a group of people that are going to come in here and speak on behalf of the coal companies, and that is wrong. If they’re gonna give their ticket to somebody to speak for them, they should already be in the building.”

Alliance for Northwest Jobs and Exports is the group who hired place-holders. Spokesperson Lauri Hennessey says they’ve learned it is competitive to be able to speak at the hearings.

“A lot of the people that we have who support where we’re coming from can’t come to a hearing at 11:00 or 12:00 and stand there for three or four hours, a lot of them run businesses.”
Coal shipment advocates demonstrating at public hearing. Photo by Paige Browning.

Hennessey says both sides use placeholders, but her group has the resources to hire people, while environmental community reps have volunteers who are willing to come out and stand in line. Still, anyone can give feedback on the Department of Ecology’s website through January 21st.

Copyright 2012 Spokane Public Radio

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