Event: The Thin Green Line in Tacoma

Standing up to oil trains in the City of Destiny.
This post is part of the research project: Northwest Coal & Oil Exports

Next month, Eric de Place will head to Tacoma to discuss how oil trains and other dirty energy proposals put Tacoma residents—and their wallets—at risk.

Tacoma is now the Northwest city most threatened by oil trains. New Sightline research reveals that 80,000 barrels of crude oil per day are permitted to travel on a publicly owned railway into the heart of Tacoma’s industrial area. In addition, another 15 loaded trains bound for north Puget Sound refineries can also pass through the city each week. No other urban center in the region plays host to so much oil train capacity inside city limits.

In addition, a new proposal for a methanol refinery in Tacoma has recently gained media attention. Eric de Place will also explore the fundamentals of methanol facilities—and what they mean for Tacoma and beyond.

Event Details:

  • What: The Thin Green Line: How Oil Trains Put Tacoma At Risk, a presentation and Q&A with Sightline Institute policy director Eric de Place
  • When: Tuesday, October 13th, 7:00 PM (doors open at 6:30 PM)
  • Where:  Milgard Assembly Room in William W. Philip Hall (WPH) at UW Tacoma,1918 Pacific Avenue, Tacoma, WA (map)

Please RSVP to [email protected].

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Listen In: How Oregon Leads on Voting Rights

A Thank You Democracy radio interview with Sightline and The Bus Project.
This post is 24 in the series: What Democracy Looks Like

Last year, Oregon continued its leadership in voting rights by passing the New Motor Voter law and starting to automatically register eligible voters. (California has since followed Oregon’s lead.) Oregon’s Bus Project has been a champion of voting rights—this week on XRAY Radio’s Thank You Democracy, The Bus Project’s Executive Director, Nikki Fisher, and I talked about voting rights and representation with Jefferson Smith.

Listen in here.



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Weekend Reading 9/18/15

Let Lessig debate, how to redistribute wealth, walruses on rafts, and more.
This post is 220 in the series: Weekend Reading


Why does the media care so much about Hillary’s emails but not at all about the fact that Bush’s tax proposals are a pack of lies? The path to plutocracy is paved with media stories about emails and outfits, instead of coverage of actual policy proposals and what they mean for the middle class (Jeb’s tax plan = really bad for middle class) and for the 0.1% (Jeb’s tax plan = really good for 0.1%).

To get the message out about Fixing Democracy First, Lessig needs to be in the debates. To get in the debates, he needs to poll well. To poll well, he needs to be in the polls. Tell the pollsters to include him.

And then, wouldn’t it be cool of polls asked you to rank your choices? Like this.

10 Republicans are going to say—out loud, in public—that the US should maybe do something about climate change. HOORAY! Read more »

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The Impacts of a Grays Harbor Oil Spill, in 13 Slides

How Big Oil jeopardizes Washington coastal tourism and the Quinault Nation.
This post is 12 in the series: The Risk of Northwest Oil Spills

Three large oil terminals proposed for Grays Harbor could undermine the region’s economy and local culture. That’s the takeaway from two recent economic analyses: first, a study on coastal recreation in Washington from the Surfrider Foundation and marine technology firm Point 97; then, Economic Impacts of Crude Oil Transportation on the Quinault Indian Nation and the Local Economy, published by economic consulting firm Resource Dimensions.

These reports help clarify the real threat that oil transport poses to Grays Harbor. But since most people don’t have the time to thumb through such detailed findings, Sightline commissioned the following graphics to sum up the key points.

Over forty percent of Washington residents travel to the coast each year; their top recreational activities are beachgoing, scenic enjoyment, wildlife viewing, photography, and hiking/biking.

Original Sightline Institute graphic, available under our free use policy. Data Source: Surfrider Foundation.

Original Sightline Institute graphic, available under our free use policy. Data Source: Surfrider Foundation.

Coastal visitors spend an estimated $481 million dollars per year on recreation and tourism trips. An oil spill in the bay could do tremendous harm to businesses that are dependent on tourism dollars. Read more »


What Is the Jordan Cove Export Project?

A look at a major Northwest natural gas export project.

An oversized carbon-fuel project may be coming to a small town on the Oregon Coast. A Canadian energy company wants to build a liquid natural gas (LNG) export terminal in Coos Bay, Oregon, to ship tremendous volumes of natural gas overseas. To serve the terminal with natural gas, a pipeline company would build hundreds of miles of pipeline through 72 miles of public forests, 400 water bodies, 700 parcels of private land, and the habitats of 32 endangered species.

The Northwest is becoming a prized location for LNG export development owing to the savings on shipping to Asia compared to other parts of the US. Northwest communities are wondering whether most of the benefits of natural gas will go overseas while the detriments will impact the Pacific Northwest’s environment.

In this article, we take a look at the scope, finances, and political landscape of the Jordan Cove Energy project as an example of LNG development in the Pacific Northwest. Read more »


Washington State Has Forgotten Its Own BP Oil Spill

Remembering when the Nestucca disaster left our shores “to cleanse themselves.”
This post is 11 in the series: The Risk of Northwest Oil Spills

It was just a few days before Christmas 1988 when an oil barge accident near the entrance of Grays Harbor unleashed one of the most damaging spills in Northwest history. It was quickly eclipsed by the grounding of the Exxon Valdez just three months later, and today the story of the Nestucca is largely forgotten.

As it turns out, some of the same conditions that led to the Nestucca’s tremendous impact are still with us today. Sightline is studying the accident—and its aftermath—to understand what might happen if the oil industry succeeds in building the three new shipping terminals it has planned for Grays Harbor. In this installment, we tell the story of what happened.

On December 21, 1988, workers at BP’s Cherry Point refinery loaded the tank barge Nestucca with 2.8 million gallons of No. 6 fuel oil. Also known as Bunker C oil and “black tar crude,” No. 6 fuel oil is dark, viscous, and sticky. It literally comes from the bottom of the barrel of refined petroleum, and it resembles tar or asphalt. Plans called for the steel tug Ocean Service to tow the 300-foot Nestucca to Aberdeen (located inside Grays Harbor) to unload some cargo before continuing on to Portland.

Both vessels were operated by Sause Brothers, a BP North America Petroleum contractor based in Coos Bay, Oregon. Sause put five men onboard the Ocean Service tug. Both the captain and chief engineer held maritime licenses from the US Coast Guard, yet federal safety laws required at least half the other crew members hold an “able seaman” certification—none of them met this standard.

Around 11:15 pm on December 22, the ocean swells at Grays Harbor were moderate, and there was little wind. In preparation to cross the bar into the harbor, the crew tightened the towing wire that connected the Nestucca to the Ocean Service. As the captain turned the tug to prepare for entry, the tow wire suddenly snapped. The Nestucca began to drift toward the shore. Read more »

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New Divestment Campaign Targets the Gates Foundation

The Fossil Free movement asks the world’s biggest charity to put its money where its heart is.

Bill Gates told Rolling Stone  that “climate change is a terrible problem, and it absolutely needs to be solved. It deserves to be a huge priority.” Yet the foundation that bears his name—the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation—has invested $1.4 billion of its endowment in fossil fuels.

A Seattle campaign has just launched to change that. The Gates Divest campaign is asking the world’s largest charitable foundation to make another contribution beyond its valuable grants and charitable activities: to act in accordance with its values and fully divest from fossil fuels. The move comes on the heels of a March 2015 call by The Guardian newspaper, in partnership with 350.org, to “Keep it in the Ground,” a campaign that also called on the Foundation to divest. Already that campaign has garnered over a quarter of a million signatures and brought significant attention to the divestment movement. Now, with a local campaign ramping up in its home town, will the Gates Foundation go along?

To understand what is at stake—and why the divestment movement matters to the Northwest and globally—let’s take a moment to examine the details. Read more »


Weekend Reading 9/11/15

Lessig for president, an ancient giant virus, and the wolf's return.
This post is 219 in the series: Weekend Reading


Lessig raised $1 million and is running as a referendum presidential candidate to Fix Democracy First. His “Citizen Equality Act” mirrors Sightline’s democracy work! It aims to embody the idea that, in a democracy, every citizen is equal, using a three-pronged strategy: (1) every citizen has equal freedom to vote, (2) every citizen should get equal representation in Congress, achieved through multi-member districts and ranked choice voting (sound familiar?), (3) all citizens, whether poor or rich, get the same voice, achieved through matching funds for small-dollar contributions (kind of like this). By floating his referendum candidacy, Lessig is making these much-needed reforms a part of the national conversation.

Many Americans are afraid. Afraid because things are changing, and they seem to have fewer and fewer opportunities for a dignified life. But some, instead of blaming the economic drift on policies that continuously siphon all of our wealth to the top 0.01%, instead blame it on Mexican immigrants. And they are voting for Trump. “Voters beset by inequality and scarcity have reached past the sober promises of the center-left and the center-right to the specter of a transcendent solution, no matter how cruel.” Read more »

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What Oil Trains Threaten in Grays Harbor

Crude-by-rail terminals could mean steep costs to the local ecology.
This post is part of the research project: Northwest Coal & Oil Exports

The oil industry’s plans to build new shipping terminals on the Washington coast could jeopardize a crown jewel of the Northwest’s natural heritage. The ecologically rich estuary of Grays Harbor fuels one of the western hemisphere’s most prolific feeding grounds for migrating birds even as it supports a major crab fishery and vital resources for the indigenous Quinault who have inhabited the area for thousands of years. The region’s welcoming beaches host millions of visitors annually and also support more than 24 wildlife species listed as endangered or sensitive.

Yet proposals for three developments to move crude oil from trains to ocean-going vessels could put it all at risk. Over the next few weeks, Sightline will examine some of the best research on the risks to Grays Harbor’s heritage, including economic studies by the Quinault Nation and the Surfrider Foundation. In this installment—as public comment periods on these oil projects have just begun—Sightline enumerates some of what’s at stake in Grays Harbor.

Grays Harbor National Wildlife Refuge

Grays Harbor is considered the single most important shorebird feeding area on the Pacific Coast. The 1,471-acre refuge lies within the bay near Hoquiam. As many as 24 shorebird species use the refuge, and up to a million shorebirds gather throughout the area in spring and fall to feed and rest. Accordingly, Grays Harbor is designated as a Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network Site. An accessible boardwalk provides a means to develop education programs for up to a million people who visit each year.

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Latino Voters, Environmentalists at Heart

Poll: Largest US minority cares deeply about the environment and climate change.
This post is part of the research project: Word on the Street

Most American Latinos might not fit the typical “greenie” stereotype, and most say they don’t refer to themselves as “environmentalists,” but a recent Earthjustice and Green Latinos poll, conducted by Latino Decisions, found that registered Latino voters are environmentalists at heart, caring deeply about environmental impacts on their families, and putting environmental protection as a top priority.

More surprising, perhaps, is that Latino voters see certain environment issues as higher priorities than even immigration reform. For example, while 8 in 10 US Latinos said it is extremely or very important to pass comprehensive immigration reform, fully 9 in 10 feel that way about enforcing and strengthening the Clean Water Act to protect our waterways and clean drinking water. Smog and air pollution also rank higher than immigration. Climate change is also viewed as a higher priority than other pressing national issues that are getting more media attention, including fighting against terrorism (75 percent) and raising the minimum wage (68 percent). Latino voters (91 percent) put “the economy, jobs and economic recovery” as a top priority, but 6 in 10 believe that stronger environmental laws would improve economic growth and create new jobs.

These attitudes are important to note—especially as national candidates vie for support in 2016—since Latinos are the second-largest population in the United States. Attention, presidential candidates! The survey found that 72 percent of Latinos would be more willing to vote for an official who prioritizes protecting the environment. Read more »

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