Posted by: sweeneyblog | October 25, 2013

Friday Odds and Ends: Coal Money and Unusual Arguments

Hello Loyal Readers,

We are deep into “Fogtober” and I am almost done with my Halloween preparations. I’ll put up pictures once it is done, but it has been a two month project that is finally coming to fruition. If you are curious about the origins of Halloween, my wife wrote a great article for this blog that is worth checking out.

The real boogeyman this year is the outside money. Almost all the news coverage, whether locally or from the statewide media, focuses on $1 million dollars being spent on the County Council and port races. Yes, it is a large amount of money, but it is not without precedent.

Kathy Kershner from 2009

Kathy Kershner from 2009

In 2009, Kathy Kershner received a huge (for the time) check from Nick Kaiser of $20,000. At the time, it was speculated that this money was passed through from Caitec, a large developer in town, and Kershner’s voting record after the election was consistent with allowing developers free reign in the county. This was considered such a shockingly large amount of money for such a small race that the state legislature used it as the proto-example when they passed donation limits the very next year. That money seems very small now, in comparison to the $160,000 of coal money flowing into the conservative coffers.

The other point I feel the news coverage is missing is the key difference between WCV’s money and the coal money. The issue is intent. The coal company has a financial motive here, they want to get the Gateway Pacific Project approved so they can make gobs of money. Washington Conservation Voters is not going to make any money from the Whatcom County Council. They are not receiving any grants, they are not up for any studies, they have zero financial motive in this race.

It is easy, and lazy writing, to just say that both sides are bad because they are sending money into our community; you have to consider the motivations separating these two.

Kris Halterman's pro-Coal PAC

Kris Halterman’s pro-Coal PAC

I advanced this argument on KGMI recently, where I went toe-to-toe with Kris Halterman, the organizer behind the coal money PAC SaveWhatcom. You can listen here (skip to the 31 minute mark). Near the end, Kris Halterman said something rather interesting. She said,

“The GPT project is a multi-modal dry bulk goods export facility which has been vilified for their willingness to use that facility to ship the products needed and wanted around the globe. Coal likely will  be one of those products and it is needed to provide energy around the world. Energy is essential to all people and thousands of people around the world die because of a lack of  affordable energy resources. Why would SAVEWhatcom want people not to have the energy they need to survive and improve their poverty issues?” (emphasis mine)

To which I responded, “You believe people people will DIE if we don’t build the coal port?” That is what we have come down to here. The people supported by the coal industry are literally arguing that we are going to die if we don’t do this. It is difficult to imagine a more extreme argument that doesn’t involve Hitler.

At first I thought it was just a slip of the tongue, but she followed it up by reiterating this line of attack on the SAVEWhatcom site.

That’s it for now, I have a whole thread of posts lined up for the next couple of weeks culminating in an election night liveblog at the Whatcom Democrats Victory Party. You can read my previous live-blogs here. Until next time . . .



  1. Literally LOL’ed when I read this. Thanks for the Friday fun, Riley! 🙂

  2. I wouldn’t accuse you of being lazy, but you failed to mention what *is* the motivation of Washington Conservation Voters, if not the grants, the studies, etc. To say WCV has “zero financial motive” in these races is a tad naive and simply inaccurate. WCV Executive Director Brendon Cechovic told me the group is opposing the coal terminal because its donors are telling him to. That to me is financial motivation.

    • That is a fair point, Ralph, that they are involved because this is the sort of fight that their donors support; fighting for clean air, clean water and a sustainable environment.

      • Oh those nasty conservation motives.

    • So the next question is, what is the motivation of thousands of donors like me that can afford $10-$15.00 contributions? Do we get a huge monetary reward?

    • I disagree strongly with Ralph Schwartz’s comment. There is a big difference between coal companies, and SSA which is seeking permit approval from the county council, contributing large amounts of money to the interconnected political PACs SaveWhatcom/WhatcomFirst, which are pushing the conservative “family wage/good jobs now” agenda synonymous with GPT.

      SSA, Cloud Peak Energy, Global Coal Sales, and Corby Robertson (Robertson owns the largest private coal reserves in the US and owns many companies, one of which operates a fleet of large vessels that carry/ship bulk commodity cargoes) all stand to make huge financial profits if GPT is built.

      As far as I understand, the WCV is a non-profit organization, supported by donations, from people and, I think, groups who share a common goal to protect the environment and embrace the ideal of conservation. The WCV is not profiting from its endeavor to support candidates that they believe endorse the same views of caring for the environment and conservation.

      Mr. Schwartz seems to be the naive one if he believes there is not a vast difference between the source of the contributions from corporations which stand to make profits versus an organization wanting to help get candidates elected that will make protecting our environment a priority. In my opinion either Mr. Schwartz has been writing, or his employer the Herald, has been causing him to write some of his articles and political blog stories in what seems to be a slant towards the pro-coal side of the fence. He is subtle in his approach, but I believe it is noticeable.

      It’s also important to remember that the GPT permit applicants, PIT (a subsidiary created specifically for GPT by SSA), and BNSF contributed $40K ($30K from PIT and $10K from BNSF) to the WA state Republican Party, which then funneled that into the County Republican Party, which in turn, so far, has dumped thousands of that money into the coffers of the conservative county council (and Port) candidates. Both SSA/PIT and BNSF stand to make huge profits if GPT is permitted by the county council and is built.

  3. Over here in Point Roberts, the “people will die” is standard fare in practically all policy discussions. We need more paths/trails because walking on the road shoulders is “an accident waiting to happen.” The Fire District is particularly prone to “someone could die” if we don’t have another Automated external defibrillator or another Thermal Imager or whatever. It’s the very heart of our degraded political discussion, nowadays.

  4. Riley, the “save the little peoples of the world” notion is actually taken from a conversation overheard by Mike Stark and blogged about. He caught an Arch Coal exec (proponent for the Millennium Bulk Logistics coal terminal) laughing uproariously with Lauri Hennessey of the Alliance for Northwest Jobs and Exports, about a pseudo-counterargument to make against us here in the Pacific Northwest, since they can’t use climate denial here like they can “in St. Louis.” Lauri admitted she actually uses the argument, and it seems to have gone viral with the Tea baggers who apparently didn’t get the memo that their secret has been revealed. See,

    But that’s fine. I think Ralph should devote even MORE ink to questioning the motives of WCV. Why stop such a good roll. Who knows where it will take him. Fox news, make room!

  5. […] (PDC). They dealt with two cases from Whatcom County recently, Ken Mann and the coal-funded PACs, SAVEWhatcom and Whatcom First.  Ken Mann had some sloppy filings leftover from how he closed out his 2009 campaign books. I […]

  6. […] Halterman and her pro-coal PAC from last year, SAVEWhatcom, took issue with my recent reporting on the Charter Review Commission and published a blog post […]

  7. […] In most cases, I intentionally pull interesting, funny or goofy pictures of people because I believe that we take things too seriously and it gets people to read the article. However on interviews, when I am sharing insight into one specific person, I always try and get a good picture (see Bill Knutzen, Kathy Kershner, and Ken Bell for some conservative examples). My goal is never to make someone look foolish with a picture . . . their own words are usually enough to do that. […]

  8. […] huge ethical conflict writing about Cherry Point without disclosing that SaveWhatcom has received hundreds of thousands of dollars from proponents of the Gateway Pacific Terminal. I realize I’m reaching here, asking for ethics from an organization that was so deeply unethical […]

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