1:16 PM: We’re back at the Sea-Tac Airport Conference Center for the Port of Seattle Commission‘s regular meeting. Nothing regular about the meetings lately, as the public-comment period two weeks ago ran more than 3 hours, with almost 80 people commenting about the port’s controversial lease with Foss to host part of Shell‘s Arctic-drilling fleet on part of West Seattle’s Terminal 5. The gallery is full again today – more regional media has shown up than two weeks ago, too – and we will chronicle as it goes.
Public testimony is first on the agenda. #1 – A representative of the Building and Construction Trades says they support the lease because of the jobs it will provide and “the dreams of the future. … We would hope the port follows through with this lease so we can build for the future …” #2, Jordan Royer, representing the Pacific Merchant Shipping Association, terminal operators and shipping lines. “This is important because it allows you to reinvest into the terminal, to be competitive on the world stage. … We lose the port, we lose manufacturing … My biggest concern is that if for some reason political winds take your eye off the ball and your core business, that it will be difficult to get other maritime businesses to look at this port as competitive.” #3, Emily Johnston from 350.org, refers to the taped comments by Commissioner Bill Bryant published by The Stranger: “‘You silly people,’ leave these decisions to the grownups – that is in effect what (supporters) are saying. … (But) the so-called grownups have failed us … Scientists have told us this is a catastrophic project and the regulatory bodies have failed to step in.” She mentions that the Obama Administration is likely to give permission for Arctic drilling, maybe even today. She says the lease is “supporting catastrophic climate change … You are all addicts, and this is your intervention. … All lives are on the line.” First applause of the meeting. #4, Cameron Williams, with ILWU Local 19, saying he represents about 3,000 dock workers. “I commend the commission for (moving forward with) the lease.”
#5, Paul Stevens, president/CEO of Foss, thanking the commissioners. He notes that 164 are “working to support our project at T-5,” including “101 at the facility,” a dozen of them Foss employees. “We have contributed $3 million in revenue to the port since signing the lease.” He mentions that they expect to bring non-Shell projects in, as well. And he says maritime competition is tough and faced by this area – and that the competitiveness is enhanced if there’s certainty that political pressure won’t affect deals. #6, a man identifying himself as an Edmonds resident. He says opposition to this and to drilling is “alarmism.” #7, Beth Smith of Foss says having local oversight of this project will make a difference. #8, a woman wearing a red T-shirt reading “The People vs. Shell.” She says Greenpeace has a ship in the Pacific “keeping an eye on Shell’s massive drilling ships as they head north” and promises to “shine a light on one of the most dangerous drilling projects in the world.” #9, Zarna, in the same T-shirt, saying she’s with the Alliance for Jobs and Clean Energy. She acknowledges that jobs matter, but “Shell and oil workers around the country are striking, and have been striking for 2 months, for health and safety reasons.” She says she has spoken to workers in Anacortes who told her about deaths on the job. “When you say this is about jobs, it’s not true – it’s about money” and says Commissioner John Creighton received campaign contributions from executives of Foss and its parent company Saltchuk. “How much money will it cost to buy you back?” she yells, and presents the commission with a symbolic “blank check.”
#10, another man in the same T-shirt. He says he apologizes to his brothers and sisters in labor, “but jobs go up and down, and particularly with wise leaders, we can increase jobs with good jobs, quality jobs, but the climate is on a descent straight down.” He says Commissioner Bryant’s remarks included ridiculing his kayak, and says he’s sorry that commissioners no longer seemed to be supporting the reasons he voted for them. “I have only a few more years to live. It’s not about me … (future generations) are going to live with (the results of this). We have a blessing here, and we’re destroying it for money – Shell profit. I like Foss, Foss has been around a long time, has done a good job, but Foss has sold their name to Shell.”
AS-IT-HAPPENED COVERAGE CONTINUES AFTER THE JUMP:
#11, an employee of Saltchuk, the parent company of Foss: “If the same vessels coming into the port were fishing vessels, we wouldn’t be having this conversation … The reason this room is full is because of the wish of some (that Arctic drilling wouldn’t be allowed).” She says that’s not a decision for people here to make. She says Foss and Saltchuk have excellent environmental and safety records, and that she as a parent believes they will continue to be “good stewards of the environment.”
#12, Dave Gering of the Manufacturing and Industrial Council of Seattle lauds the port’s environmental record and says much of the local Superfund cleanup “is already done.” He says he’s confident that the port is being a good environmental steward. #13, West Seattleite John Demery says that he has five people working on Terminal 5 and he doesn’t want to see it idle. #13, a longshore worker named Josh thanks the commission for “doing the right thing and finding an interim tenant for Terminal 5.” #14, Foss’s vice president and general counsel Arthur Volkle, saying it’s an almost-century-old business, mentioning that maritime is perhaps the last business in America where someone can “graduate high-school and get a blue-collar (family wage) job.” He expresses incredulity: “Why are we even here?” He says the Foss project is exactly what the port is supposed to be used for and mentions the $3 million cited earlier. “There is nothing more consistent with the purpose as stated in the bylaws for the Port of Seattle …” #15, another Foss employee: “We are responsible stewards of the environments in which we operate.” He stresses the jobs created so far and to be created as part of the project, and also notes that whatever is done with the Shell lease “affects our ability to attract future customers to Terminal 5.”
#16, Franny, identifying herself as a 72-year-old grandmother of 3, the youngest a Seattle 3-year-old. She asks the commission to rescind the lease that will bring Shell here “for maintenance of (its) Arctic drilling fleet.” #17, David Bergsvik from Saltchuk, who calls himself a “Democrat … concerned about global warming.” He says the company has won awards for environmentally sound equipment such as hybrid tugs.
1:47 PM, CONTINUING: Speaker #18, Herb Krohn, state legislative director for a rail workers’ organization, says they support continued use of Terminal 5 and thinks that the biggest threat to port land like this is “billion-dollar developers … who want to redevelop the lands for personal profit.” He says this use “will have no effect on oil consumption or drilling” so in his view there would be no point in canceling the lease. Speaker #19 says the discussion that Shell will “just go somewhere else” needs to be viewed through the prism of Dutch Harbor, AK, being the other option, and says that might make drilling too expensive for Shell to pursue. He says he’s also sad that this is being framed as “jobs vs. the environment.” Speaker #20, Mike Dash, identifies himself as a “small business owner.” He says jobs and the economy is “a great conversation to be happening” but the environment must be considered – “When DDT was banned, there were jobs on the line … When PCBs were banned or restricted, there were jobs on the line.” He says Arctic drilling is “extremely dangerous” and he doesn’t like having to speak against jobs, but “if we get runaway climate change we’re not going to be talking about hundreds of jobs at stake … we’re going to be talking about millions and tens of millions of jobs.”
Speaker #21, Michael Foster from Plant for the Planet: “Half as many plants and animals live on earth as when I was born. During that same time, roughly twice as many people – consumers – live on earth … We passed the critical thresholds for CO2 in the air in 1987. If you shut off all the power, close the port, threw your car keys in the ocean, we still fry our kids and the next 7 generations and everything they require to survive.” He notes that P for the P is planting trees to try to counter some of that, and thanks Commissioner Gregoire for accepting their invitation to plant with them in West Seattle recently. “When your house is on fire, you don’t light a barbecue. … You throw everything you’ve got to putting out the damn fire, because there are lives in there.” Speaker #22 is Ellen Cooper from Saltchuk: “Preventing Shell from wintering their vessels at Terminal 5 will not prevent them from drilling in the Arctic.” She says the best thing that could be done with those vessels, for safety and minimum environmental impact, is to have Foss working with them. She says 84 Foss vessels “were honored for environmental excellence” last year.
Speaker #23, Steve Scalzo from Foss, says he supports the port “and their responsibility to manage the affairs of the Port, including its leases …” He says it’s a competitive world out there in the maritime world and Seattle does not need further “undue oversight or political pressure.” Speaker #24 is West Seattle lawyer Peter Goldman, who says “Some say environmental opposition to this lease is symbolic … grandstanding …” He says it’s no more symbolic than Martin Luther King, Jr.’s march on Selma. But for those who say that the case should be taken to D.C., he says, they have, mentioning that his wife Martha Kongsgaard was there to demonstrate today. He says Kongsgaard said there, “The first rule of getting out of a hole is to stop digging.” Speaker #25 is a Foss employee who says he’ll be in charge of a key part of the Terminal 5 operations. He says they’ve considered “reductions in our workforce” but projects like this are staving that off. He says they have 55 percent union mariners. “Not only do we provide good-paying jobs but we have a strong culture … always safe, always ready.”
2:05 PM: Speaker #26 is Kenan Block, who acknowledges the port’s strong history. “We’re getting arguments today that are tired old ones that it’s either good working-class jobs or the environment, and most of us know that isn’t really an honest (argument), and that (this area’s) future is in green jobs …” He says this is “an extraordinary moment in time … I believe we’re at a tipping point where the citizens are saying no and you have a responsibility to act – I know it won’t be easy … rescinding a contract is a big deal … The nation’s watching, we are all watching, and I’m urging you to show true leadership for all of us.” Speaker #27, in the red The People Vs. Shell T-shirt, is Kaylin Nicholson, asking if this is the “only way to bring jobs in … I believe there are other companies you could have leased this terminal to” that could have brought “just as many jobs.” Speaker #28, a longshore worker. He alleges “there’s another agenda here” and decries the port having shut down Terminal 5. He says some of the commissioners “have come in later” than “deals made behind closed doors.” And he says the port needs to stop paying more attention to the airport than the seaport. Speaker #29, Curtis, from The Coalition for Port Accountability, noting that these meetings are “inaccessible to the wider public” because of time/location, and if not, more people would be here voicing their concerns. They hand out a pre-printed statement he’s reading, calling for “an evening Town Hall meeting in Seattle specifically focused on the Shell agreement.” He concludes with a snark that “It’s nice to see Foss finally got itself a PR firm,” referring to its many witnesses so far.
Speaker #30, Lee Colleton: “This is not jobs vs. environment, this is about divide and conquer by the 1 percent.” Speaker #31, Allan Meyers of Saltchuk (if you’re just tuning in, again, that’s Foss’s parent company), vouches for the character of Foss’s owners/executives and says “they too live on Puget Sound” and care for it. He says the lease opponents in red shirts “don’t speak for me.” Speaker #32, Sue, who says she is a 70-year, third-generation Seattle resident, adding, “I feel that moving forward with this lease … (would bring) disaster.” She cites a “pledge of resistance to Shell” website. Speaker #33, Hildegarde Nichols, mentions the Bryant audio published by The Stranger and wonders about his “motives” for “get(ting) the rest of Seattle into this mess.” She is German and mentions a past German leader who she said did a turnabout on nuclear energy. “This is an opportunity for you to lead Seattle and actually the world into a fossil-fuel-free future. I would very much like it if you would seize this opportunity.” Speaker #34, Carlo Voli of 350.org, says he’s in favor of maritime jobs and spent 10 years in the industry, but “of course things are going to go wrong in the Arctic … if Shell is allowed to drill (there).” He says, “Once those ships (arrive here), Seattle will become Ground Zero in the climate-change battle.”
2:26 PM: Speaker #35 is from the Sailors Union and labor organizations. He reads the King County Labor Council’s resolution passed last week endorsing the lease. He also says Commissioner Creighton led the port into environmental innovation starting a few years back. Speaker #36, Cynthia, in one of the red shirts, says she’s one of the Raging Grannies. “I really don’t get it. You know the facts. You can’t deny that global warming is barreling down on us …” She too says environmental protesters will descend on Seattle for a “long hot summer” if this goes through and tells the commission it’s “made a big mistake.” Speaker #37, James from Socialist Alternative, says jobs are important but workers are toiling in worse conditions than ever, and that government giving tax breaks to companies like Boeing didn’t work. “If you won’t lead or follow, then we’re going to have to make you get out of the way.”
Speaker #38 is Betsy Seaton, a Saltchuk executive. She says she applauds the lease and thinks it “makes a lot of sense to put a valuable resource to work … under an environmentally responsible company like Foss” and thinks this is vital to “keeping Seattle a strong maritime community.” Speaker #39 is Lisa, in a red shirt, echoing the call for an evening hearing on the lease. She said she’s here only because she is self-employed and can adjust her hours. She says she spends a lot of time “working to stop climate chaos.” She mentions other jobs that are being affected – like in the seafood industry, affected by ocean acidification.
2:37 PM: Commission co-president Gregoire says they’re close to the end of the speakers list (about half as many as two weeks ago). Speaker #40 says she wants to be a mother someday but does not want to bring a child into this world “if they are going to be forced to face catastrophic climate phenomena and climate wars” among other problems. Her voice breaks as she says that natural disasters are like mental disorders, you can’t see them coming – “Please don’t allow Seattle to host … this end to life on the planet as we know it.” Speaker #41 says that we all care about the environment and saving the planet but how we get there is what separates us. “We should feel privileged to live in this land but the only way to honor it is to make sure that future generations can live in it.” He urges protection of the land and its beauty, and cites “the lesson that the Duwamish Tribe has taught us.” Speaker #42 is Olivia One Feather, who identifies herself as a member of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, and says she’s “here to speak for Mother Earth because no one else seems to be doing that … This is a joke and I’m trying to be nice but colonial courtesies are escaping me these days.” She says Mother Earth “is not happy right now and it’s all of our jobs to protect her.” Speaker #43, John, says he “can’t add much to what Olivia just said, she hit the nail on the head.” He says he works for Greenpeace and reminds the port that they had suggested they would argue against Arctic drilling to the federal government and hopes they will keep that commitment – and that they will get out of the lease with Foss.
2:46 PM: Public comments are over and a brief break has been called.
2:58 PM: Back in session. Co-president Gregoire is moving to the agenda item involving a resolution that was introduced two weeks ago – about “a better process at the port,” as co-president Bowman describes it. Read it here. Commissioner Albro, who introduced the resolution, said that he finds the commission’s position right now “unfortunate .. we’ve managed to take up something that absolutely divides us.” He says he opposes the lease because he’s opposed to Arctic drilling and because using port facilities for this purpose is “out of synch” with public values in Seattle, as well as because “T-5 is one of the most advantageously positioned cargo terminals in the Northwest” and he doesn’t want to see anything get in the way of using it as such. “We need that facility to be handling cargo.” He says that ports are for a public purpose and should not be used for something at odds to public interest. “If we lose our ports, we lose our last chance for a healthy middle class in Seattle … and that’s why this use isn’t worth it to me. … Some are calling for recission (but) I cannot possibly support (that) … In order for the port to succeed in the public purposes using our commercial powers, we have got to be a reliable party.” But he can support a resolution making sure it ends after 2 years as stipulated, which the aforementioned resolution addresses.
3:07 PM: Commissioner Creighton is speaking now. He acknowledges that “climate change is real” and that they have to have policies addressing it. He says, “The controversy around the lease raises some broader issues.” Next, co-president Gregoire notes that this is one of the country’s few publicly elected port authorities, and that’s part of why she sought the position, “stewarding public assets.” She says she wants to believe environment vs. jobs is a “false tension,” and recaps that she opposed the lease back on January 13th. “We did not have a fulsome public debate before the CEO moved ahead with this lease,” she notes. “This lease is in opposition with my values … we all know the science, we know that if we open up the Arctic we are opening up a new frontier that we cannot shut.” Her voice breaks a bit when she mentions her 2-year-old and in-utero children, and the expectation that there’s a “75 percent chance of an oil spill” in the Arctic. She says Terminal 5 needs to “be a beacon” to the future. She says Foss is a beacon as well, “an environmental steward, and they know how to do work safely … (so) we want to send a message that once a commitment is made we don’t renege on our commitments.”
3:15 PM: The motion passes unanimously, and the meeting moves on to unrelated matters. Bottom line: Even the two commissioners who say they oppose the lease are not supporting taking action to rescind it. Meantime, the city of Seattle continues reviewing technicalities related to permission for the Foss use at T-5, and the lawsuit filed by an environmental coalition goes forward, after a judge ruled last week that it could. The heart of the suit is a challenge to the port’s contention that the Foss/Shell project is not a change to the 20-year-old permit for T-5’s use as a cargo terminal.