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Topics: Labor Unions

Democrats, labor unions clash over coal in Washington state

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Beltway Confidential,Labor unions,Democratic Party,Washington,Ashe Schow,Coal

Another feud between environmentalists and labor unions has caught up with Democrats in Washington state.

Whatcom County Democrats passed a resolution in July that stated their opposition to a proposed terminal that would ship coal to Asia. The Gateway Pacific Terminal at Cherry Point is opposed by environmentalist groups for the coal and the Lummi Indian tribe because it's on their land.

The Democrats' resolution stated that "we propose and support the rejection of all industrial, commercial and residential uses of the remaining natural lands and waters on and adjacent to Cherry Point."

The resolution seemed to irk the Northwest Washington Central Labor Council, which refused to endorse two Whatcom County Democrats for office. "It was evident that the issues that were important to labor had been lost in a lot of noise," said council president Mark Lowry, referring to the coal terminal.

Lowry said that not endorsing Carl Weimer was in part due to Weimer's focus on the coal terminal. Lowry said Buchanan was disqualified for not attending an endorsement meeting. He also said that labor has endorsed those two candidates in the past and could do so in the future.

Unions strongly support the Gateway Pacific Terminal because construction of the terminal would employ 4,400 people for about two years and create another 1,250 long-term jobs once the terminal is at full capacity, according to estimates by the project leaders.

Washington Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee tried to toe the line between environmentalists and labor unions while running for office, but has since allowed his Department of Ecology to review the coal port proposal.

The criteria that the state's DOE will use, however, allows for assessing the impact that the coal would have in China and of the coal trains passing through.

"By injecting national and global issues into what normally would be a review of local environmental impacts, Washington regulators appear to be making a statement - they're the ones who get to decide which products are exported from the state," wrote Eric Smith, editor of Washington State Wire, a popular news gathering site and blog.

Polls consistently show that the coal export terminal has bipartisan support in Washington, with 50 percent of residents supporting and only 32 percent opposing.

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