On Friday, August 3rd, Whatcom County Superior Court Judge Charles Snyder blocked Bellingham's Proposition 2 (No Coal! ordinance) from appearing on the city's November ballot. The Bellingham Herald reports that the Judge "...said the initiative, with its coal transport ban and Community Bill of Rights, exceeded the scope of city government's power. Among other things, it would have attempted to nullify state and federal laws." No Coal! organizers have filed an expedited appeal of the ruling to the Washington State Court of Appeals (pdf).
This case is really about who gets to decide on local issues of major importance, such as the dramatic escalation of coal train exports planned for the Northwest.
As The Stranger reported last week, "States and municipalities are prohibited from regulating interstate commerce, and international trade rules prevent the federal government from restricting the export of nonscarce resources. So neither Seattle nor Congress has the power to forbid the trains from coming through."
Why would No Coal! organizers (or Initiative 103 for that matter) draft initiatives that challenge settled state and federal law? Simply because when faced with massive harms facing our communities and our environment, we must assert our rights to say no, and block such harms.
The Seattle area would face 18 1.5 mile long coal trains per day: up to 150 million tons coal per year. There are 130 cars per train which each leak 500 - 2000 lbs of poisonous coal dust and remnants on the journey. In total, this project represents 50% more coal than the U.S. has ever shipped. Doctors say health effects from diesel emmissions and coal dusts begin way below current federal safety standards.
The Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund's Executive Director Thomas Linzey wrote last week, "People watching the destruction of their communities right before their eyes have used all of the legal tools that the system has deigned to give them – appealing regulatory permits, challenging Environmental Impact Statements. But it has all miserably failed to turn the boat around. ... If we’re really interested in actually stopping the harms, we must recognize that structural changes are necessary – ones that permanently elevate community power above corporate power. Because without real, local control, we will never be able to move towards any semblance of sustainability."
Prop. 2 organizers had delivered nearly twice the number of signatures needed to qualify for the ballot. Bellingham residents clearly want a vote on the coal train and corporate constitutional "rights". But Judge Snyder has blocked them of this opportunity ignoring Washington State precedents to allow citizens to vote on initiatives before challenging their legal validity.
The courts – programmed to keep municipalities from interfering with corporate 'rights' - have created a myriad of ways in which citizen lawmaking can be prevented. The recent decision by the county court essentially allows any initiative to be challenged pre-election for any reason. So much for citizen lawmaking power - even when it’s just about the right of the people simply to vote on an initiative.
If you want to stop getting screwed, you have to change who makes the decisions that are screwing you. And changing “who decides” means coming face-to-face with a structure of law and government that has been designed very carefully to eliminate the democratic process; and then openly and frontally challenging that system of law.
That’s why the Bellingham initiative has very little to do with coal – and everything to do with restoring the right of people to make decisions about what happens within their own communities, where they live.
Escalated coal train exports are coming to the Northwest unless we take action. Initiative 103 strips corporate constitutional privileges and provides Rights for Nature to stop the coal train. Please contribute to i103 today.