With the start of Donald Trump’s presidency, environmental groups in Skagit County are wrestling with fears about how his policies will impact the environment.
Trump’s vision for the nation — as stated in his "America First Energy Plan" on the White House website — is to open access to untapped domestic shale, oil, natural gas and coal reserves, and to eliminate barriers to those energy sources in order to create jobs and cheaper energy.
Local members of national groups such as the Sierra Club and BlueGreen Alliance, as well as area nonprofits including Transition Fidalgo and Friends, and RE Sources for Sustainable Communities, are calling for the community to mobilize and chart its own path.
“Things are happening very quickly and tipping points are being reached, and we don’t know how much time we have to act on this,” Transition Fidalgo member Evelyn Adams said. “The election seems to have put up a blockade to the very incremental progress we were making, and there is a lot of anguish over that.”
The Associated Press has reported that Trump called climate change a hoax perpetrated by China, and pledged to undo related environmental regulations and pull the U.S. out of international efforts to reduce carbon emissions.
The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive.— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 6, 2012
During Trump's first week in office, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and other federal agencies were directed to temporarily halt external communications, the Associated Press reported.
All mentions of climate change have disappeared from the White House website, and Trump's transition team announced that the EPA's climate change science will be scrutinized and potentially removed from the agency's website.
On Tuesday, Trump signed a series of documents regarding pipelines and other energy and infrastructure projects in an effort to move those projects forward and create jobs, according to a White House news release.
The documents, including an executive order and several memorandums, are aimed at reducing time spent on reviews for compliance with environmental regulations and restarting the application process for the Dakota Access and Keystone XL pipelines, which were denied permits while Barack Obama was in office.
It’s unclear whether Trump’s actions will benefit the two oil refineries on March Point, and therefore the local economy.
Shell Puget Sound Refinery spokesman Cory Ertel said in an email that Shell sees itself as having a role in the changing energy landscape, and is looking for ways to continue producing energy with less carbon emissions.
“Shell recognizes the importance of renewables/alternatives and continues to look at opportunities in this space. Shell’s Puget Sound Refinery has and will continue to play an important role for decades to come in meeting the fuel needs of our region, while also supporting the broader business to pursue investments in new energy technologies,” Ertel said.
As that transition unfolds, the refinery will continue “providing the gasoline, diesel and jet fuel that power life in the Pacific Northwest,” Ertel said.
The Tesoro Anacortes Refinery and Western States Petroleum Association, which represents the March Point refineries, did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
Regardless of whether Trump’s proposed policies are put into place and make fossil fuels more accessible and affordable, the region’s major electricity provider plans to continue to increase access to cleaner, renewable energy sources such as wind and solar.
“Our customers want cleaner energy and as a result of that, PSE has consistently added to its renewable energy portfolio over the last decade,” Puget Sound Energy spokeswoman Christina Donegan said in an email.
The power company gets about one-third of its energy from hydropower, including from two dams on the Baker River, 4 percent from wind power, and another 2 percent from other renewable sources. According to the American Wind Energy Association, Puget Sound Energy is the second-largest producer of wind power in the nation.
Donegan said the company will continue to invest in renewable energy.
Transition Fidalgo’s Adams said activities such as the Break Free PNW event in May that drew protesters from throughout the Pacific Northwest to Anacortes and the mass protest against the Dakota Access pipeline at Standing Rock show people are realizing the dangers of climate change and want to take action.
“Right now there are a lot of people feeling shell-shocked and throwing up their hands and saying ‘What in the world can we do to make sure our planet remains a healthy, livable planet for generations to come?’” she said.
Sedro-Woolley resident Jim Katrien is among them.
Katrien said he had hoped the nation was moving toward ending the growth of fossil fuel infrastructure and toward embracing a clean energy future.
“It’s just frightening. At the exact moment when we need action on climate change, we’re going to get the reverse,” he said.
Transition Fidalgo, a nonprofit that encourages a local shift from fossil fuels and raises awareness about climate change, has organized a group for those concerned about changes in policy that may affect the environment.
The initial meeting in early December was limited to Transition Fidalgo members. Fifteen attended.
“The common theme was grief, fear and uncertainty,” said Mary Beth Conlee, one of the facilitators of the group. “Folks who work on environmental change carry a lot of grief and fear about what’s coming.”
The idea behind the meetings is to provide a place where talking about those fears is OK and where the group can brainstorm solutions.
“People were deeply appreciative that we were creating a space where they could come and share the hard feelings from the election ... Where it’s OK to talk about what’s hard and heartbreaking,” facilitator and Anacortes resident Grace Ford said.
The group, which is now open to the public, met again Jan. 8 and plans to continue meeting on a monthly basis.
An informal conversation group in east Skagit County is also encouraging locals to discuss politics and climate change.
The group, called the Woolley Party, is a “local sustainability and resilience discussion group” that grew out of conversations already happening among locals, member Will Honea said.
The Woolley Party is aimed at bringing locals together to discuss big issues, from the political divisiveness that was rampant leading up to the presidential election to the widespread reliance on fossil fuels and their role in climate change, according to its website.
“Climate change is happening, we rely on fossil fuels — what the heck are we going to do about that? Who has some ideas?” Honea said.
Government officials at various levels who share those concerns are taking action.
After Trump was elected, Obama took several actions to protect the environment, including halting oil and gas drilling and mining claims, and protecting swaths of oceans and public lands, the Associated Press reported.
Gov. Jay Inslee said during his recent inaugural address that regardless of what happens in Washington, D.C., the state will continue its efforts to fight climate change.
“No matter what happens in that Washington, here in this Washington ... businesses and government will remain leaders and innovators in combating the devastating threats from carbon pollution, the scourge of climate change,” he said.
Dozens of mayors and thousands of scientists have signed open letters to Trump asking him to take climate science and the costs of the impacts of climate change seriously. Included in that group are Seattle Mayor Ed Murray and faculty from Washington State University, the University of Washington and the Pacific Institute.
Meanwhile, the Sierra Club is among the groups calling for mass action on environment issues.
The local chapter of the Sierra Club held a gathering Jan. 11 to encourage more area residents to get involved in fighting for environmental protections.
“On the local level we need to be vigilant on the local threats to our water, air, forests and marine life. We need to work with all the environmental groups to combat unfriendly environmental policies,” group chair Judith Akins said. “We are still very concerned about the shipment of oil and gas out of (Western Washington ports).”
Though proposed local fossil fuel projects have lost steam, including the oil train unloading facility proposed for the Shell Puget Sound Refinery on March Point, Trump has suggested he will revive fossil fuel industries and support expansion projects, Akins said.
Shell’s Ertel said the refinery does not plan to restart the rail project, which was called off in October due to economic conditions, according to refinery officials.
Steve Garey, executive board member for the Washington BlueGreen Alliance, said Trump’s plan to revive fossil fuel industries is not realistic considering the momentum toward clean energy development.
“Demands for fuels the refineries produce are going to be reduced over time,” Garey said. “That means the economy of this area is going to be threatened, and we have an obligation to take that fact as a challenge, and try to live up to it in a way that maximizes the benefits that can come from investing in these clean energies.”
BlueGreen Alliance is made up of labor unions and environmental organizations working together to solve environmental issues in ways that make economic sense. The goal is to avoid abrupt changes that result in abrupt job losses.
“We’ve certainly lost a lot of industrial jobs in Washington state as well as around the country ... In fact that loss of industrial jobs just played a major role in the presidential election,” Garey said.
Although Trump promised to revive the coal industry and protect middle-class workers, Garey said he does not believe average workers will benefit from the proposed policies.
“I think it’s pretty clear that the people who are going to have power, at least in the executive branch, are not friends of labor nor friends of the environment,” he said.
Garey, who has worked for each March Point refinery, said it will be increasingly important to have local conversations about how to protect those jobs that are currently dependent on fossil fuels.
Ertel said Shell plans to remain a major employer in the area, and potentially add jobs as investments in new energy sources allow.