Happy Postponement: Celebrating TOTE’s LNG Conversion Delay

by Tracy Wiegman

On May 7th, 2018, Totem Ocean Trailer Express (TOTE) made a decision to delay the conversion of their ships, the Midnight Sun and the North Star, to burn Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG).  The adjustment to the conversion schedule aligns their ship’s LNG-readiness to the latest completion date for the Puget Sound Energy LNG project.

TOTE goes on to say they are fully committed to convert.  We, the growing opposition to Puget Sound Energy’s LNG refinery, know they should not be so sure of themselves at this point!

A Celebration    

A group of us decided we would show our gratitude and throw a thank you party for TOTE.  We wanted to let dock workers and over-the-road truck drivers know we support the delay and the canceling of the conversion all together.  We wanted them to know there are better alternatives to improving air quality in Tacoma and the surrounding area.  And we wanted them to know we stand in solidarity with the Puyallup Tribe whose land and treaty rights the LNG refinery directly and negatively affects.

On the evening of June 8th we gathered outside the TOTE gate, where most of the dock workers enter, with our beautiful ‘balloon’ signs, sound system with party music and informational fliers.  The guards at the gate were amused and kind and let us set up without any hassle.  We also had cupcakes – it was a party after all – made by Marilyn Kimmerling, one of the Super Six who locked themselves down to the auger at the LNG construction site in May of 2017.

As dock workers started streaming in most were focused on getting into work but a few did stop for a moment.  We rewarded them with cupcakes and fliers explaining why we were there and why PSE’s LNG is dangerous, toxic and not needed.  We even had a few over-the-road truckers honk as they drove by, showing their support.

We had a TOTE-ALLY awesome time, waving our signs, waving at everyone, talking to a few, dancing to the music and enjoying each other’s company.

A Growing Resistance

We may have been playing up our celebration a bit but, truthfully, we really do have a lot to celebrate.  There has been great progress in growing awareness with all the people and organizations who are actively stepping up and speaking out against this polluting and dangerous LNG monstrosity.

Our pressure greatly influenced the Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission, who is now requiring PSE to consider the costs of using fossil fuels for power generation in their 20 year plan.  This includes a recommendation from the commission that PSE do a “supplemental analysis of the Tacoma LNG terminal given PSE’s erroneous assumption that this project is a done deal.”

The Puget Sound Clean Air Agency (PSCAA) is now preparing a Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS) on the LNG facility.  The SEIS will address the air and cumulative impacts specifically related to greenhouse gases throughout the life cycle of “natural” gas.

Just last week, on June 7th, the Washington Physicians for Social Responsibility, representing over 800 Washington physicians and health professionals, standing in solidarity with the Puyallup Tribe, sent a letter to Governor Jay Inslee calling for a halt in the construction of PSE’s LNG facility.  A quote from the letter says, “Flammable emissions released as a normal and daily component of LNG bunkering would be in close proximity to sparks and other ignition sources produced at the extremely busy container port, against the safety recommendations of both the American Bureau of Shipping and the Society of International Gas Tanker and Terminal Operators.  As identified by independent researchers, including Sightline Institute, the City of Tacoma’s Environmental Impact Statement lacked rigorous analysis of these safety risks.”

That letter goes on to talk about the significant risks of all the additional pipelines required by the facility.  In fact, just last week, on June 7th, the Leach XPress natural gas pipeline, built by TransCanada, exploded.  Fortunately no one was hurt because the explosion happened in a remote part of Moundsville, West Virginia.  In 2010, a Pacific Gas & Energy owned pipeline in San Bruno, California, exploded killing eight people and destroying an entire neighborhood.  “The U.S. Geological Survey registered the (San Bruno) explosion and resulting shock wave as a magnitude 1.1 earthquake.  Eyewitnesses reported the initial blast had a wall of fire more than 1,000 feet high.”  (Wikipedia)

The Leach XPress pipeline was only 6 months old.  In an article by Sharon Kelly, on her DeSmogBlog , she writes how TransCanada emphasized that it was built quickly but safely.  “Leach XPress was done in less than a year,” Scott Castleman, manager of U.S. Gas Communications for TransCanada, said in a January statement.  He added, “this is truly a best-in-class pipeline and we look forward to many years of safe, reliable and efficient operation on behalf of our customers.”  Does this sound familiar?

Recently Earth Ministry / Washington Interfaith Power & Light project, sent a request to clergy and religious leaders to please join them in signing onto a letter to Governor Jay Inslee.  In the letter they state, “In February of this year, 14 Northwest Tribes joined with the Puyallup and wrote you (Inslee) a request for your leadership in halting construction on this dangerous project as it undergoes further review.  As clergy committed to being good allies to Native Nations, we ask that you respect tribal sovereignty and honor this request.  Please encourage the City of Tacoma, Department of Ecology, Puget Sound Clean Air Agency and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to issue a Stop Work Order to Puget Sound Energy.”

They go on to say, “The City of Tacoma and Port of Tacoma bypassed normal regulatory processes and rushed through an EIS without proper consultation with the Puyallup Tribe and all the Tribes who have an interest in the treaty protected resources that are threatened by this project.  The safety of the surrounding community is jeopardized because the Blast Zone of the Tacoma LNG plant includes Puyallup Tribal homelands, Tacoma residents, schools, daycare centers and an immigration detention center.”

To add to this growing list of opposition, the Washington State Democratic Central Committee (which sets priorities for their party) joined the Native American Caucus of Washington State Democrats in voting to support a stop work order and to stand with the Puyallup Tribe asking that their treaty rights be honored.  Other Washington Democratic Caucuses to join this ever increasing lineup are the Environment and Climate Caucus, the Progressive Caucus, the Federation of Democratic Women and the Separation of Church and State Caucuses.  The Seattle City Council, the King County Democratic Central Committee and the Snohomish County Democrats all passed similar resolutions opposing PSE’s LNG in Tacoma along with a growing number of Legislative District Democrats including the 43rd, 32nd, 36th, 46th, 38th, 27th and the 33rd.

There are now over 60,000 people who have signed onto a petition requesting that Governor Jay Inslee Stand with the Puyallup Tribe – No LNG Fracked Gas in the Salish Sea!  If you haven’t signed this petition yet please do so by clicking here.

There is also a petition calling upon the City of Tacoma to fulfill its duties to protect residents by opening a Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement about the inadequate safety review for the LNG project.  Click here to sign the petition.

How to Really Improve Air Quality

I want to leave you all with a few alternative ideas to help improve air and water quality other than the highly green-washed Liquefied Natural Gas refinery, which really is just another dirty fossil fuel.  First of all, TOTE comes to the Port of Tacoma for one 8 hour shift, twice a week, plugging into shore power electricity while in port.  The Port and City of Tacoma could be investing in shore power electricity at ALL the terminals in the port.  The Port, City and TOTE could be investing in electric terminal trucks and other electric powered equipment.  They could be investing in solar and wind to ensure the power for all this is not coming from fossil fuel sources.  We could all be actively lobbying our state and federal politicians to stop subsidizing the oil and gas profiteers to the tune of billions of dollars a year.  Instead we can redirect this money towards all the amazing and innovative solutions being developed right now that does not keep us traveling down this fossil fuel dead end highway.  And of course reducing our energy consumption and investing in more efficient technologies to help us do this needs to be at the top of the list.

And finally, in a letter to Jay Inslee where the founding faculty for the University of Washington Tacoma express their opposition to PSE’s LNG, their final paragraph drives the point home:

“China, Norway, and others are developing completely electric-powered cargo ships producing zero emissions independent from fossil fuel use. There is also great potential for wind and solar power for freight ships. What if our area, with all its scientific, engineering, and entrepreneurial talent and advantageous geographical position, were also to place itself at the forefront of these really clean-energy developments? Could the lessons learned from ASARCO and other industrial holdovers from the 19th and 20th centuries transform Tacoma into a truly 21st century model city? It hurts to see our region so compromised by the lure of short-term gain, the seduction of corporate false promises, the continued marginalization of its first peoples, and the power of big business at the expense of public health, safety, and real imagination.  We say no.”

Learn More

To find out more and find ways to get involved please check out:

PSE LNG Spoof Website

Redefine Tacoma

No LNG Tacoma

Native Daily Network

Tacoma Direct Action

Other Sources

Washington Physicians for Social Responsibility letter to Jay Inslee

Earth Ministry: Stand with the Puyallup Tribe Against LNG

DeSmogBlog: Xpress Pipeline Explodes in West Virginia

UWT Founding Faculty Letter Against LNG

Sightline Testifies at Hearing for Tacoma LNG Protesters

No Tacoma LNG – Starter Kit