Politics Blog

Anti-coal activist Burr wants PUD commission seat

Bob Burr has name recognition, whether it's from protesting the shipment of coal through Bellingham, seeking public office or his active role in the Green Party. Burr proved to be the more attractive alternative candidate last fall in the race for the at-large seat on the Bellingham City Council.

As Burr put it in his announcement early today that he is running for office again, "He's baaack."

Burr wants on the commission of the Public Utility District of Whatcom County. He is challenging incumbent Jeffrey McClure. As of 1:40 p.m. on Friday, Burr and McClure were the only two who had filed for that seat.

One of Burr's main interests, based on his press release, appears to be the PUD's responsibility over the large water right now held by Pacific International Terminals to wet down coal at the proposed Gateway Pacific Terminal.

What can Burr as PUD commissioner do to separate PIT from its water right?

"I will be just one of three votes," Burr said in an email to the Politics Blog. "Wait another two years and a second Commissioner unfriendly to PIT can be elected. Even then, a binding contract has been signed. From the get-go, I will be challenge the legality of the 2007 contract. with Chevron which transferred the rights to PIT. I believe it violates the DOE requirements that the water be beneficially used and not be detrimental to public interest."

Here's Burr's full release:



BELLINGHAM -- Bob Burr announced his filing last night to run for a six-year term on the Public Utility District 1 Commission. He stated that "PUD commissioner is, by far, the most important 'bottom of the ballot' position and one that County residents seldom think about or vote for. If nothing else, my campaign will make it more visible." It is the PUD that supplies water to industries at Cherry Point and contracted last year to provide water to the Gateway Pacific Terminal, if built, for the next 30 years. "The PUD is a primetime player in water in Whatcom County and holds rights that are, for the most part, senior to all other groups except the tribes".

Bob Burr, like most residents of Whatcom County, is against building a coal terminal at Cherry Point. "Climate change is the tragic reality. Earth is well on its way to the next mass species extinction event. Coal burning is the chief culprit in the incipient climatic cataclysm. It is certifiably crazy for American taxpayers to be subsidizing the shipping of coal to China."

Burr noted that the contract between the Public Utility District and Pacific International Terminals, the GPT proponent, grants them rights to nearly 2 Billion gallons a year (5.33 million gallons per day) of Nooksack River water. These rights were purchased from Chevron which previously held them, but were set to expire in 2015. "In the light of known water conflicts and potential shortages, the District was shortsightedly irresponsible to extend those rights to 2042", stated Burr. "Watering down acres of 60 foot high coal piles to keep them from combusting and filling our lungs with coal dust will be necessary if GPT is permitted. That's why we are fighting it; but, the PUD should not have been a GPT facilitator. It should serve the public interest."

The Public Utility District's General Manager, Steve Jilk, stated at a recent Grange Forum that he did not foresee a water shortage in Whatcom County; however, the PUD has never modeled the effects of changing climate scenarios. They plan to do so next year and Burr wishes to lend his expertise to such modeling. "Farmers and other constituencies are not as sanguine in their water outlook as the PUD", Burr said.

Prior to taking early retirement and moving cross-country to Bellingham 19 years ago, Bob Burr was Vice President in charge of Research and Development for Prudential Insurance. Once here,, he opened his own national research and consulting practice which he ran for 13 years. He then fully retired to become a "full-time activist" which he defines as "a lobbyist for the people".

Burr is well known in local political circles. He advanced to the top two in last year's At-Large Bellingham City Council race. In the primary, he billed himself as the "Anti-Coal Candidate", but dropped it when his opponent in November also adopted an anti-coal port stance. A sign of his anti-coal activism is his having "gone to jail for justice". Burr was arrested along with 11 others in December, 2012, for laying down on the railroad tracks to block a coal-train on its way to Canada.

Burr is active in both the Green and Democratic Parties and is proud of "going both ways". He ran as a Democrat in 2010 against incumbent Senator Patty Murray. He finished 7th in a field of 15, but first in terms of votes per dollar expended. He is a strong proponent of money out of politics and has accepted no money whatsoever in his past campaigns. He previously served on the Board of the Whatcom County Democrats, as Vice-Chair of the 40th LD Democrats, and for four years on the State Democratic Platform Committee. More recently, he served as Vice Chair of the Green Party of Washington State. He is a delegate to this year's State Democratic convention and serves currently as the Treasurer of the Whatcom County Green Party.

As is the case with many involved Whatcom County citizens, Bob Burr has also filed to become an unpaid member of the Charter Review Commission.