As a community organizer fighting against fossil fuel expansion in the northwest, public hearings are like old home week for me. I get to see so many grassroots heroes in one place. I get to hug them, look them in the eyes, and say “thank you.”
This week was no exception as many of us gathered in Vancouver, WA to stand up against Big Oil, saying NO to an unwelcome proposal to build the largest crude oil-by-rail terminal in North America. This was the final big hearing on Tesoro’s proposal before the Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council (EFSEC) makes a key recommendation to Governor Inslee. The many community members, native representatives, faith leaders, business leaders, and elected officials in attendance wanted to make sure that EFSEC will say no to Big Oil as well. They’ll makes sure the governor hears the same message.
The passionate testimony people bring to these public hearings can be especially moving—in part because of the seeming imbalance of power between, on one hand, one of the world’s largest corporations, and on the other, ordinary people speaking plainly about what’s good and bad for their families and their neighbors. Here’s some of what I heard in Vancouver from some old, and some new, heroes of mine:
Port of Vancouver Commissioner Eric LaBrant was the first person to address the EFSEC panel, speaking not in an official capacity, but as a resident of the Fruit Valley neighborhood.
“I’ll be very direct,” he told the panel. “This permit is functionally meaningless and based on alternative facts… An ongoing chemical spill in a neighborhood of 2000 residents and 3,000 workers, for a promise of 176 jobs, is a bad plan.”
Jared Smith President ILWU Local 4 said, “Tesoro's air pollution is like the toxic icing on a poison cake. We urge Governor Inslee and EFSEC to deny this proposal.”
I lost count of the nurses and doctors that testified in opposition. Patricia Bellamy, a nurse for more than 40 years, said: “In two minutes it is impossible to elaborate on the numerous health and safety risks.” She was concise in explaining a bunch of them though, and told me personally about the horror of burns from oil train explosions.
Marcella Chandler, a retired nurse from Vancouver added, “Everyone who works and lives nearby will be breathing these toxic fumes. EFSEC should deny this project.”
Don Orange heads up Vancouver 101, a group of local small businesses opposing the Tesoro terminal propoal, He has a wonderful down-to-earth manner, speaking from experience, and from his heart. “I have godchildren with asthma,” he told the panel. “This project will cost us jobs, and our reputation as one of the most beautiful places the live. We have polluted air already. We don't need this to make it worse!"
Michael Lang of Friends of the Columbia Gorge reminded us that one our region’s gems at stake: "We all know oil by rail is unsafe... all of these oil trains would go through the Columbia River Gorge Scenic Area.”
Ziggy has become a familiar face. He has come to virtually every hearing on the Tesoro proposal—notable because he travelled to Vancouver all the way from Spokane immediately after he got off work without sleeping. "Our hospitals are near the tracks and our fire station is within spitting distance of the rail lines. I'm here because I love my city and I don't want what happened at Lac Megantic to happen to us.” He was referring to the horrific oil train disaster in Quebec, which killed 47 people and incinerated much of the small city’s downtown in summer 2013.
One poetic juxtaposition in the hearing came when an elementary school student named Caleb testified, immediately followed by a woman who could have been his grandmother. Each presented their own generation’s plea for a safe and healthy future.
Caleb, evidently a good math student, told the panel that the proposed Tesoro oil terminal would be responsible for generating 320 million pounds of carbon pollution each day, if built. "I'm planning on sticking around until the next century,” he said. “You should think about the mess you're leaving us.”
An elder man made his way to the microphone and moved many of us to tears. He said that he was there because of three very precious people in his life, his three grandchildren. He then shared this poignant and haunting poem by Drew Dellinger:
It’s 3:23 in the morning
and I’m awake
because my great great grandchildren
won’t let me sleep
my great great grandchildren
ask me in dreams
what did you do while the Planet was plundered?
what did you do when the Earth was unravelling?
surely you did something
when the seasons started failing?
as the mammals, reptiles, birds were all dying?
did you fill the streets with protest
when democracy was stolen?
what did you do
I too was at the Tesoro hearing for my great great grandchildren. I left Vancouver in time to make it to my niece’s 11th birthday party. There was cake and presents and lots of joy. I will continue to fight for her future and for that of all our children and all living beings.
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