Patricia Ross is a city councilmember in Abbotsford, British Columbia, and a fellow with Leadership for Environment and Development International, a training organization committed to sustainability.

Monday, 20 Aug 2001


Monday around my place always starts off with a bang, but today is especially crazy. The phone hasn’t stopped ringing since 8:00 a.m. As a politician, I have gotten used to calls from people wanting to discuss issues, but I have noticed that people often seem to wait to vent their anger over their issues until Monday morning. Today’s crisis is over a mailer, more commonly referred to by angry residents as “propaganda,” that the Sumas Energy 2 (SE2) power plant proponents mailed to residents in Washington state and B.C.

How polluted was my valley?

SE2 is a proposed 660-megawatt power plant that would be located in Sumas, Wash., right next to the border between Canada and the U.S. It would spew almost three tons of toxins a day into an already polluted airshed. This particular airshed is trapped on three sides by mountains, causing L.A. -style smog in a prime agricultural region. The most closely affected population consists of about 300,000 people on the Canadian side of the border. the plant would be built on a floodplain where flooding has washed cars off roads and damaged homes and businesses. It would also be on top of an earthquake fault.

To add insult to injury, the plant operators want to tie into Canada’s power grid and put 230,000-volt power lines through a residential and business district. Usually, power lines with this high of a voltage would be put in unpopulated areas. Voltage this high is not even allowed in Whatcom County, the Washington state county bordering Canada. The county allows nothing above 115,000 volts due to health concerns, which is only one reason why they want to put this plant so close to Canada, even though much of the power would be intended for the California market. Another reason is that they need Canada’s natural gas supply — and the closer they can get, the less expensive it will be. And most importantly, this type of polluting plant would not be allowed to be built in California, because of the pollutants it would emit into an already polluted airshed — precisely why we don’t want it here.

We have been actively fighting this proposal since March 2000 but have been in the eye of the storm for the past few months, since the Washington State Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council gave the project a thumbs-down last February. SE2 has now come back with an amended application, but the changes are minor — a mere smoke screen. Things are heating up again now that the application is officially filed, and new hearings are about to begin.

It was disheartening to see it on my doorstep, another reminder that they have so much money to hire high-priced PR people and lobbyists. We simply cannot compete on that scale. We can easily refute what was said in that mailer with fact and science, but we don’t have the money to send it to all the homes they did. It is full of misquotes, things taken out of context, and studies misrepresented. For example, they quote the American Lung Association, giving the impression they are in favor of SE2, but the Washington chapter of the ALA has written a letter of opposition to SE2 to Gov. Gary Locke (D). They quote Canada’s Environment Minister saying good things about the technology, but leave off the part of the statement that says something to the effect of “however, it is still in the wrong location given the existing air pollution.”

We may not have a lot of money, but we have heart. Everybody is doing what they do best, Canadians and Americans alike, and it all fits together like the pieces of a puzzle to create an amazing, united lobbying effort. At the very least, we have shown the polluting corporations not to mess with us!