We are done with coal | Guest column

By Bonnie Hendrickson

On March 4, 2016, I attended a hearing at the Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission in Olympia with my sister and brother-in-law, Jan and Harold Hoem from Missoula MELT (Montana Elders for a Living Tomorrow). The hearing was to discuss the future of Colstrip, Montana’s coal-fired power Plants 1 and 2 (which are partially owned by Puget Sound Energy).

Washington and Oregon no longer want to receive dirty “coal by wire,” energy produced by burning coal. Colstrip Units 1 and 2 have exceeded in their life expectancy and Puget Sound Energy PSE could plan for their closure. In question was the damage continued use would cause to the environment and its inhabitants, and what the UTC and PSE should do.

Several Montanans testified; two attorneys, ranchers , a state legislator and others. In total more than 200 concerned citizens crowded into the room: physicians, scientists, economists, residents of Whatcom County and other parts of Washington and Oregon. This necessitated opening an adjoining room for overflow.

Testimonies covered information about the increase in asthma severity and other respiratory disorders, especially in children; how the mining and power generation process has poisoned water sources and threatens others, affecting farms, ranches and food sources; impacts on climate change, etc. I sat near “Cowboy Curmudgeon” Wally McRae, fifth generation Montana rancher, who spoke of how, for decades, his ranch has been threatened by the coal industry and Colstrip. The call was to shut down Plants 1 and 2 and develop clean energy sources. My perception of the feeling in the room was that “The time is now!”

Several attendees expressed concern about how this transition would occur, as a number of Colstrip jobs could be eliminated. Alternatives need to be explored. Further, Bill Arthur, Deputy Western Campaign Director for the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign stated in his report “The Washington Legislature ensured that the funding is approved and available for remediation and cleanup when Units 1 and 2 are retired.”

We were very impressed by the UTC Commissioners. They gave full attention to the speakers, took notes, asked thoughtful questions, then took notes on the answers given. On the same day the UTC met, “the Washington Legislature passed SB 6248 that sets up a fund for PSE dedicated to retirement and cleanup for the aging Colstrip Units 1 and 2.” On March 17, 2016, a press release headline read “Puget Sound Energy makes move to transition off coal power. Binding order secures pathway to retirement for Colstrip Units 1 and 2 in Montana.” A separate article announced, “the Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission approved a petition filed by PSE, Sierra Club and NW Energy Coalition asking to delay the pending April 1, 2016 rate case with the commitment that PSE include a retirement and cleanup plan for the older coal-fired units” no later than January 17, 2017. This is great news!

For the complete press release, go to content.sierraclub.org/press-releases/2016/03/puget-sound-energy.

Bonnie Hendrickson is a resident of Friday Harbor.