More than six years have passed since the cargo shipping company Totem Ocean Trailer Express proposed to convert its ships to burn liquefied natural gas, which led to a proposed fueling facility for the Tacoma Tideflats.
Since then, countless public meetings, hearings, environmental studies, protests, lawsuits and threats of lawsuits on the $275 million LNG project have taken place.
But it wasn’t until this week that the Seattle City Council decided to weigh in on the project, claiming climate change knows no jurisdiction.
Why Seattle is choosing now to voice concern may have as much to do with politics and paternalism as it does concern over the environment.
At the request of the Puyallup Tribe, the Seattle City Council passed a unanimous resolution calling on the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency to have “meaningful consultation with the tribe on Puget Sound Energy’s liquefied gas (LNG) plant.”
“Meaningful consultation” is the equivalent of “thoughts and prayers.” It’s a far cry from the strong language the tribe brought to the full council back in January.
The first resolution asked Seattle to oppose the plant outright. The tribe sought the council’s political heft to persuade the air agency to reject PSE’s permit application.
Seattle wouldn’t go that far; after all, it has an interest in the Port of Tacoma’s success, especially since the Seattle and Tacoma ports formed a seaport alliance in 2015.
What Seattle offered was a watered-down resolution that says the council is “troubled” and “deeply concerned” by the proposed LNG facility. Talk about your natural gas.
If the Puyallup Tribe was looking for an activist ally, it didn’t find one in Seattle city government. Don’t hold your breath waiting for Seattle politicians to chain themselves to equipment at the LNG site, as two protesters did in December.
But, hey, it’s visionary that Seattle can see past the log in its own eye. The Duwamish River, ancestral homeland of the Duwamish Tribe and a federal Superfund site since 2001, is among the most polluted urban waterways in the Northwest.
Should the Tacoma City Council draft a resolution stating it’s “troubled” and “deeply concerned” about the stormwater runoff and toxic chemicals that persist in the Duwamish? No, because Tacoma leaders understand Seattle is doing the same thing we are: Striking a balance between environmental stewardship and economic stability on a longtime industrial waterway.
Seattle’s City Council may have time to meddle in other jurisdictions, but Tacoma’s government is too busy answering to its own tax base.
This doesn’t mean Tacoma shouldn’t welcome thoughtful scrutiny from community members including the Puyallup Tribe.
Storing 8 million gallons of LNG and producing 250,000 gallons a day on the Tideflats is no small thing; we won’t forget that it was public safety and environmental concerns that helped stop an ill-conceived $3.6 billion methanol plant proposed in 2016.
Certainly the tribe can take credit for helping prompt the air agency to launch an additional third-party Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement, a study that’s at least a speed bump on the road to the LNG plant’s planned opening in 2019. If the facility can’t secure all necessary permits, it shouldn’t be built.
Our Editorial Board has made it no secret that we favor the LNG plant. As we stated in our 2017 Civic Agenda, LNG is a known commodity and cleaner-burning fuel that will help wean cargo shippers off dirty diesel fuel.
In a perfect world, the expansion of fossil-fuel infrastructure would cease immediately. But right now, and for the foreseeable future, fossil fuels power almost all modes of transportation. Converting diesel-electric cargo ships to LNG propulsion has economic and environmental advantages we can’t ignore.
Our deepwater port generates millions of dollars in tax revenue for local communities, schools, roads and public safety, and ultimately those are the taxpayers (and voters) the Tacoma Port commission and Tacoma City Council must answer to.
As for Seattle’s “deep concerns,” we recommend they focus them inside their own borders.